Neil Davies 2014
David Perry was twenty minutes into an all-night drinking session with the guys from the agency when his life changed forever. On the wagon David was making do with juice whilst the others hit shorts and doubles; then suddenly his mouth was bone dry.
There she stood and the moment she walked in the whole place seemed to go freeze-frame as jaw's dropped and eye's popped. Quite simply incredible she gained everyone's attention by doing nothing other just being there.
A goddess in scarlet and cream with hair the colour of a Caribbean beach she sauntered towards the bar on stilettos that required the balance of a trapeze artist; super model tall and Hollywood starlet confident she personified pure sexual allure.
David forgot about the greatest triumph of his career and six figure advertising deals or how he'd pulled off a major media coup, none of it seemed to matter
"Will you look at that," wheezed fat Sam the agency's top designer.
"Oh my god I'm in love," Frank was the art director.
"Who the hell is she," Tony from acquisitions was panting.
"Who the hell cares," Noddy smoothed his prematurely balding pate.
"My round," David said quickly launching himself off his stool with all the grace of a track athlete; as he was sober his reflexes were better.
"What would the fragrant Rachel say," fat Sam sneered and the barb went in deep, David still ached for Rachel and probably always would but that relationship was over?
"Sod off Sam," he threw back over his shoulder.
The tidal wave of male flesh surfing to the bar almost defeated him but he was slight of build, supple and had good footwork which allowed him to navigate stampede of hardening cocks and sagging bellies.
When he mounted the stool next to his goddess it felt like an Olympic gold, thank god he jogged every other day, swam at weekends and had taken up squash. This was on his doctor's advice, "I see too many strokes, cardiac arrests and stress related problems in your racket."
Looking at him in a not looking at him kind of way the girl sat perched and poised on her stool radiating cool detachment that had to take a lot of practise. Noticing her like everyone else a barman drifted over, some minimum wage waistcoat with a trim boyish figure and floppy hair.
"JD on the rocks," he was informed in dulcet tones that hinted at a convent education, exclusive girl's school and one of the more refined universities.
"I'll get that," jumping in like a fox terrier David waved a twenty at the kid, "Same for me," he added then tried to catch the azure blue gaze, "David Perry," was he drooling he felt like he ought to be, "Copywriter," it was so natural to say this that it slipped out, "That's my party over there, just landed a big car ad campaign," not that he was bragging, "Macready's a tough sell".
If the girl was impressed there was no sign of it on her bee sting lips coated ruby red or the Scandinavian cheek bones.
"Are you in media," David fished his guess was a definite yes and high profile to; no agency would be stupid enough to keep this beauty under wraps?
Accepting her drink in a tall stemmed glass she took an experimental sip, he'd had nothing back from her and was beginning to flounder if she didn't speak soon he'd have to try and crack a joke; not his strongest suite.
"Let me guess public relations, fashion magazine; commissioning editor," she was something important and glamorous; her whole demeanour shouted it?
Rewarded with a modest smile David saw the rose bud lips move as his goddess asked a startling question, "Do you live close by," it caught him right on the chin and at first he couldn't believe he'd heard it, my god was she propositioning him?
"Ten minute drive," it was closer to twenty but what the hell.
"I'm closer, room 305," and off the stool she came in a rustle of nylon and lycra, a waft of perfume almost blinding him. As she walked he followed like an obedient puppy hurrying to catch up with the heels of his mistress; envious male eyes tracked his progress.
"Bastard," he heard, "Lucky sod," and he was the luckiest guy in the entire bar.
David's dizzy brain couldn't believe this had happened that he'd pulled this stunning vision, that she'd chosen him over the tongue wagging multitudes; who were still eyeing her like a pack of wolves.
"Way to go champ," mimed fat Sam.
"Loser," gestured Frank but then he'd never rated David on any level.
Noddy bent his arm and made a fist in the time honoured salute, thanks thought Perry I'll do my best.
The moment the lift doors closed on the bar and its frustrated coterie of cuckolded males she was on him, David felt fingers prize at his collar pulling him towards those soft moist plumes and then she was kissing him repeatedly, chin, cheek, neck, and forehead, his ears were nibbled and Adams apple licked turning him right on. He felt a furnace of heat descend and his head began to spin, he kissed back or tried to as her hands and fingers explored him expertly knowing exactly what to do - stroking, squeezing and probing until he was her play-thing.
David had met eager excited women before but none with the tigerish ferocity of this one, she was eating him and they'd barely met.
By the time the lift reached the appropriate floor he was gasping, sweating, half undressed and had ruby smears all over his face. He hoped nobody was waiting when the lift opened because they'd know exactly what was going on.
Luckily the corridor was deserted and 305 was directly opposite because David didn't feel he was up to a long hike, out of breath already he had a massive erection that had to contain 50% of his blood supply.
Within seconds he was in a long lilac oasis of silk curtains, thick pile rugs, pink futons and a king sized four-poster with ebony sheets, a complimentary pack of hotel condoms smiled up at him from a pillow.
The room was bigger than his whole apartment, than any apartment he'd ever had; it was a penthouse no expense spared.
"Impressed," she asked surely a rhetorical question?
"Wow," was the only response he could offer.
"Yeah it's not bad is it, quite tasteful."
Not bad it was amazing, what was this girl used to?
"Make yourself comfortable," she waved.
"Where are you going," heading away from him and the bed she seemed to be in a hurry?"
"I won't be long," she said, "Get into bed."
"Is there a problem," he gulped unwilling to be parted from her even briefly?
"Of course not I'm just going to freshen up."
She certainly didn't seem to need freshening to him, "By the way David my name is Abi with an i," she purred.
He hadn't asked her name although it was nice to know it and he liked Abi short and simple, quite sexy to like a supermodel.
As he tugged and wrenched at his disobedient clothing he did think to wonder what she was doing here and why she was alone, not to mention who she could be. Not a local because he knew all the local talent, advertising was a small world even in London; Abi struck him as some cosmopolitan, international jet setter in town for maybe one night only and he'd been granted the role of guest star, it was quite an honour and he wasn't going to waste it.
Her designer clothes were Prada and Gucci suggesting that whatever she did it paid well and that perfume had the niff of one of the top Paris houses.
Squirming into bed he removed his underpants then picked up the sheath of Lucky Larry condoms, each one bore the hotel name, logo and a big white smile he struggled to get one over his rigid cock, embarrassing as he was no stranger to the male contraceptive; not that he'd used one since breaking up with Rachel - how many months ago was it now?
A nag of guilt briefly hit him along with the thought that he was being unfaithful, ridiculous really Rachel had moved on and so must he.
Come on your bloody thing he silently cursed meaning the Apollo rocket between his legs as much as the condom. Hopefully Abi wouldn't be too long he didn't want his ardour to fade or enthusiasm to sag, he couldn't disappoint such a woman not her and not now.
Studying the face in the mirror Abi gave it a sigh and a frown studying the cerulean blue eyes for signs of doubt or shame, she was not as composed as David imagined; her heart hammering and mouth dry with the audacity of the pick up. It hadn't been logistically hard, he'd seen her the second she walked into the bar; the only real problem was if he lost his nerve or some other guy beat him to the punch but that hadn't happened – attaboy tiger.
She'd been ready with a pointed put down just in case in the event Perry had risen to the occasion as his profile suggested (competitive and highly sexed). Also in that profile were
1 Favourite positions
2 Places he liked to be touched.
3 Scents and flavours that turned him on.
4 Top sexual fantasies.
5 Prefers blonds especially dominant ones.
Abi produced a smile thinking how easy men were how predictable, ruled by their cocks and thus they could be led by them.
From her shoulder bag she took a compact, this opened to reveal not powder but a colourless, odourless gel. Licking her lips to make sure her gloss was still firm she applied a tiny black bristled brush to the gel and began to apply it to her lower lip. It stung briefly and gave off a medicinal smell, but this would quickly fade; its potent content would not affect her due to the thickness and composition of her lip gloss.
Rubbing her lips together she was careful not to lick them, the substance could be absorbed by the tongue and saliva glands.
Should she add some more, deciding not she put the compact away and mussed her fringe a bit.
"Abi" my god he sounded eager he was virtually panting.
"Just a moment."
"Are you okay?"
Ah bless his concern was almost touching; she removed her jacket and skirt, "Just fine thanks, I'm worth the wait."
Underneath she wore black cami knickers, suspenders and a plunging support bra that enhanced her already impressive figure, a figure toned and sculpted by hard work and ruthless dieting. Abi had spent time on herself to get the right look, the best hips, the firmest bust, the Riviera tan she was nothing if not a perfectionist.
When she emerged David went all bug eyed, he was in bed a sheet up to his chest but there was no hiding his Apollo rocket of an erection; big cock for a little guy and he was only 5-6 according to her file.
"Wow," he said, "You look amazing."
Yes I do thought Abi and you're privileged to be on the same planet, to breathe the same air given the younger, fitter guys in the bar I ignored just to net you David Perry.
Sitting on the side of the bed she twisted around and gave him the first kiss on the lips, he was hungry for it and maintained the smooch longer than she would have liked. How long did it take the drug to work, didn't it hit the blood stream immediately?
Things like body mass, metabolism and age all came into it and of course alcohol but Abi was sure another kiss would seal the deal.
As it happened he seized her pulling her on top of him with a strength that was surprising, even small guys could be powerful. Abi zeroed in on the lips but turning his head he made her waste the smacker on his neck, damn she could have vampire'd him in frustration.
Fondling her breasts he made this groaning, gasping sound as he tried to remove her bodice, running fingers through the thinning light brown hair, ugh dandruff, she found his lips and planted another smacker on them.
"Let's fuck," he muttered and he pulled the sheet back to expose his cock now wrapped in a hotel issue rubber; purely applied.
"Sure, sure," Abi made herself pant, "David."
He kept groping and grunting trying to rip her panties loose.
"Shit," he broke a fingernail in his rush.
At last he stopped and looked at her doe eyed, caressing his cheeks with both hands she brought his face close to hers, "I want to ask you something."
His eyes were glazed and out of focus, pale and moist he was fighting for breath, she could see his lips were slightly swollen and more red than pink as the drug soaked in, how long, ten seconds, twenty.
"David I need you tell me a few things," with her free hand she touched the tiny device on the bedside table he probably hadn't even noticed, wafer thin, digital, a smart pad or something it would record their conversation.
"Tell me," Abi purred, "About today about how clever you were, about the pitch you made."
He blinked at her looking dazed even stunned, oh god she hadn't given him too much had she?
"Tell me about your big idea and how you sold it; come on David I want to hear it all."
He'd talk men always did, their big egos demanded that they big themselves up and brag.
Abi needed details lots of them she needed something she could understand; pushing him back onto the pillow she picked up the device and moved it closer like a reporter going for a scoop – not far from the truth.
"Come on David you know you want to, how did you get that car account when no other agency could; spill?"
Head – it felt three times bigger and full of concrete.
Tongue – a dead kipper would have been preferable if it had been in his pocket all day.
Throat – raw and dry as Saharan sand.
Neck – felt like it had been broken by a judo expert.
Eyes – could have been drenched in TCP.
A sound escaped David and it was an exclamation of pure misery, he'd had hang over's before but nothing like this, what had he drunk nothing too extreme surely? Blinking his eyes into focus he looked around the room, a hotel room, how had he gotten here, what hotel was it, why hadn't he gone home or to a friend's place?
Moving hurt (a lot) it made him feel sick and he thought he was going to chuck for a moment, he was alone which was one good thing but had a nagging memory of someone else being with him. From the sheet he pulled a long blond hair, definitely not one of his nor was the musky scent.
Girl, if so who and where was she; not a pro please he hadn't sunk to that level had he?
David couldn't recall a face or a name, he hadn't scored with one of his colleagues had he Jane or Tasha? They were very fanciable but both had partners and neither had shown any interest in sharing a bed with him before.
Sitting on the side of the bed he took a deep breath, this was a mistake and a hurried dash later he was filling the toilet bowl with recycled rum, brandy and the last thing he ate.
Head spinning he sat back wondering if he was about to die, whatever dying felt like it couldn't be any worth than this and why where his lips swollen had he taken a punch?
Going to the sink he splashed his face with cold water and took a few swallows; this definitely helped so he took a few more realising he was badly dehydrated.
Who had he been with and why had they come here, more to the point where was she, why had she left so quickly, was it shame and self-loathing?
I'm not that bad surely he mused, 32, trim, bit freckly, losing my hair but reasonably handsome certainly not fat or ugly or foul mouthed like some he could mention, small nose, light baby blue eyes, even teeth, no scars or tats; muscles fairly well defined in the agency gym.
Last night was a blank from the moment he arrived in the hotel bar, he just couldn't remember any of it not one face or conversation. He would have been with his pitch team and others from creative but their identities blurred in his mind, it was like a chunk of his psyche had been surgically removed.
Proud of his memory and mental faculties (he rarely forget details) David wondered if he were concussed but his fingers could find no bump or blood, no outward physical trauma just a weak all pervading sickliness like a virus.
"Pull yourself together Perry," he told his reflection aping his father's favourite phrase, "You're going to be fine," he didn't believe this and his guts tightened, maybe it was food poisoning but he couldn't recall what he'd eaten either.
Slowly he washed himself from the sink – he didn't dare use the power shower – got dressed and went down to reception.
"Hi," he said lethargically, talking hurt his head which felt like a boil about to burst, "I was in room 305."
The youth behind the desk turned to a PC, "Paid for in cash sir," he announced in a voice way too loud.
"By me," David enquired?
"No sir the lady paid in advance for one night."
It took all of David's self-control not to demand who the hell she was, "Did she leave contact details?"
"Not with us sir no," the kid said pointedly a degree of contempt in his brown eyes.
"Have you seen her before?"
The kid shook his head.
"I wonder could you describe her," abandoning dignity David threw himself on the mercy of this work experience minimum wager?
"I wasn't on duty last night; I think Marie had the late shift."
"Could you contact Marie for me," David pleaded?
"That isn't hotel policy sir unless there's an emergency; have you been assaulted or robbed?"
No he had his credit cards and six hundred in cash, "When is Marie next on shift," he groaned leaning heavily on the desk?
He got a cheer when he walked into TOPLINE the agency he'd worked at since college, lots of wry comments, banter and back slapping, queries about the mystery blond and what they got up to. Good question he thought just what had we indulged in that I can't remember?
Doug was his line manager, thin hair, tash, minty breath, "You're a bloody dark horse Dave, fancy pulling the babe of the century."
Married but not enthusiastically so Doug fancied himself as a bit of a ladies man, an illusion many had dented but not shattered.
"Do you know she was," Dave asked seeing the other man's grey eyes widen?
"You mean you didn't even get her name; too busy I suppose," the slap and wink were very 'blokes together' something David found nauseating.
"I woke up alone and with a head a dinosaur had stepped on, I'm trying to trace Abi."
"Oh Abi was it, high class hooker most likely," Doug snorted like he used them all the time.
"Have you seen her at the hotel before Doug or anywhere else," David persisted?
"I should say not or I'd be in there like a ferret; don't tell me you've fallen in love or something."
The braying laugh did not invite further discussion and knowing he was wasting breath David decided the only think he could do was busy himself and see this Marie later I the hope she could enlighten him.
Abi couldn't have just disappeared off the planet she was too striking, too high profile; somebody had to know who she was and where she was to be found.
Two weeks later
David had no inkling anything was different or wrong, no premonitions of doom or vivid dreams of hanging by his balls from Tower Bridge, when he was summoned to the top floor it just felt like another meeting with the brass to finalise the campaign which had gone extremely well for a chance with Art and Design raising no obstacles.
The glass quad that was the board room contained Doug (playing with his loud tie), their boss Tristan Woodward (stiff and unctuous as ever)and the big capo himself Callum Lamont founder of the agency, none of them smiled when David walked in or made eye contact but then they were Brits and Brits were a cold race right?
Without saying a word Callum switched on a huge wall mounted screen that in previous eras would have been a Turner landscape, GOOGLE came up with news headlines, one headline was highlighted and left-clicked. The information hit David like a stomach punch
McGILL LAND CAR DEAL under which in sickeningly bold type were more details, each one a knife in David's heart.
McGill's campaign was brilliant, innovative, exciting and…..identical in every way to his, in fact it was the same campaign right down to buzz words and cartoons; an exact copy a clone.
"I don't understand," this feeble blurt was the best he could squeeze out of paralysed lungs.
"Don't you," Callum was on the offensive his rich Glasgow burr more noticeable when he was pissed and he was seriously pissed.
"How did McGill get our stuff," David felt like hands were around his throat, thumbs digging in hard?
"We were wondering the same thing," public school Tristan would have enjoyed shooting deserters in 1914, "We decided the firm had a leak," he looked pointedly as his prime suspect, Private David Perry.
Dear god they think it's me David realised they think I've sold out and ratted to McGill.
"No way absolutely no way, why the hell would I," he'd been at Topline ten years, a decade of unblemished and loyal service, he'd never stiff his mates.
"Everyone has their price Dave," said Doug the ladies man.
"Not me I would never breach confidentiality, for crying out loud this is the biggest deal of my life and I made it happen."
"Exactly," Callum didn't have a dirk near his kilt but if he had it would be buried in David's chest at that moment, "Your words, your ideas, your strategy," he pointed to the screen, "McGill didn't get a thing wrong because they got it from the horse's mouth."
"No," David could hardly breathe had all the oxygen been vented from the room, "You've got it wrong, if there is a Judas here it's not me, I have never been in touch with McGill and would not send them highly sensitive information."
"Cut the crap," harsh Glasgow vowels rent the air, "You fucked us over Dave, we know it and you know it so have the balls to be honest."
Tristan shook his long neck, "I know this is a ruthless immoral world but really there is such a thing as loyalty."
To which Doug added, "We gave you a bonus and a promotion, for Christ's sake what did McGill offer?"
The trial had ended some time ago David realised and a guilty verdict had been rendered, these three had made up their minds before he even entered the building.
"Nothing, you're wrong about this, totally wrong I did not and would not betray the agency."
"So how," Callum raged, "Do you explain this," ruddy face like a blood stain the overweight man who'd boxed as an amateur raised a meaty fist, "They've got everything you wrote, everything you pitched; every fucking idea?"
David couldn't explain it, he had no idea what had gone wrong; large areas of his brain were shutting down as a tsunami of shock burned through synapse and dendrite.
"I can't explain it I haven't a bloody clue what's happened here; okay we've been shafted but not by me I'm loyal."
"I think we're done here," said Colonel Tristan waving the firing squad over, "its obvious what happened and who was responsible despite this charade."
"Damn right," said his lapdog fingering a ginger tash, "You're a bloody disgrace Dave you've really let the side down."
Mouth open David tried to summon words a cogent defence but nothing would come; he had no defence, no explanation so in the end he was reduced to, "This is bullshit," which on balance didn't help his cause one little bit, "Come on Doug," he appealed, "Tristan."
The posh boy looked contemptuous in the extreme, "You've only yourself to blame Dave."
"No you're wrong there has to be another explanation."
A knock heralded the arrival of two company security personnel to whom Callum directed, "Mr Perry needs to clear his desk and leave the building."
"You're firing me," no more than a squeak the protest impressed no one.
"Let's be kind and call it a suspension," said Mr Firing Squad, "Without pay naturally."
"Goodbye David and good luck with your future career," said Callum without a trace of irony, "Show him out," the goons were told.
It was as swift and as brutal as that, a bollocking followed by the walk of shame. Escorted to his desk David clearer his meagre possessions whilst hate-filled eyes watched, friends now foes; even the few who really liked him avoided his pleading gaze.
Guilty m'lord, guilty as hell; now pass the rope.
David couldn't get out quick enough so despised did he feel a traitor, a turn coat. Just 2 weeks ago he'd been the toast of the advertising world now he was a pariah, booted out on his arse with no reference, his reputation in tatters; he'd be lucky to land a junior marketing assistant role in the provinces.
The security goons didn't say a word as they led him out, nor did they react as he looked back at his working home since the age of 22; now an impenetrable fortress of distrust.
He went to hail a cab.
Returning to a Thames apartment he knew he could no longer afford David flopped into a soft chair, his shock had deepened and sharpened into a full-scale trauma. Sacked, fired, booted out and unwanted at 32, his fall from grace rapid and amputational. Topline hadn't even offered him the salve of an inquiry, he was their only suspect so he had to be guilty – end of story.
Ten years he'd given them the best years of his life, he'd joined the agency in his final year of university on a work placement and quickly distinguished himself, they hadn't hesitated to give him a job upon graduation – junior copywriter – only he wasn't a junior for long.
A series of hit campaigns had followed, not all penned by him but he'd contributed to the majority bagging some big clients who'd resisted Topline before, seeing them as a bit staid and conservative. In the old days they had been but not with David Perry on the case, he soon stood out for his wild, imaginative and eye-catching prose. Soon he was something of a star in the small world he occupied, a man who got things done; who won clients and awards.
Now it was all over he was finished, drummed out, yesterday's news and all because of a scam he had nothing to do with and it was a scam, a clever one as well.
That McGill had poached his ideas was beyond doubt and they'd done a thorough job not missing a single trick or technique, plundering his pitch 100% but how had they done it?
Had they bugged his phone, hacked his emails, listened in on meetings, read his mind, stolen his notes?
Could the client have tipped them the wink; no that didn't make any sense Topline were the best agency in town, twice the size of McGill with more cash and talent?
So who was the leak, the spy in camp because it sure wasn't him? Not only was this situation intolerable it seemed on the surface to be impossible the Topline crowd were fiercely loyal because the agency looked after them, generous bonuses, lot of vacations, free tickets to this and that plus the knowledge that they worked for the industry's number one firm.
So what had happened since the pitch how had the entire campaign been filched so effectively?
Someone in the office; it seemed unlikely because nobody knew the whole campaign as well as him?
An outsider; this too was a stretch because online security was as tight as hell?
A friend someone he'd trusted; no David kept people at arm's length during campaigns conscious of the old adage 'loose lips sink ships'?
What did that leave?
Two weeks ago in a hotel and a lost night with a girl he didn't know.
Abi, could it be Abi but how?
Rousing himself David rang the only friend he had left the only person he trusted at McGill,
"Eric it's me."
"Hi sport been expecting this call, Jesus H Christ the shit's really hit the fan I hear."
No kidding thought David, "Best scam in years Eric and the first time it's ever happened to my firm."
"I know we're buzzing over here, can't you hear the champagne corks; did Topline drop you?"
Yes and how, "What happened Eric how did Mac get my stuff my pitch."
"Buggered if I know and that's the truth; my boss Ryan worked on the car pitch almost exclusively."
Ryan had the imagination of a gnat, "Where did he get the ideas?"
"You know Ry it's all cards to the chest."
"You mean he didn't brag about fucking Topline over and me especially; it doesn't sound like the Ry I know and loathe."
Eric had a good laugh, "There was his consultant I suppose, the only new factor in the equation; they were very pally during the two weeks she was here."
Heart almost stopping David needed a drink, "She," he said, "A blond?"
"No mate the blond to end all blonds, Natalie Delacourt."
"Six foot tall, leggy, cobalt eyes, high cheekbones," David was using a description gleaned from hotel video, Marie had been most accommodating?
"You know her," Eric was impressed?
"No but I'd like to."
"Sorry squire can't help she's long gone."
"How do you spell Delacourt," David asked writing it down, thinking Google search, "Where did Ry find her?"
"I think she found him, not that they talked to me, she was too precious for us rank and file, if you ask me she was screwing Ry every night because they were very cosy in his office after hours if you know what I mean."
Could Natalie be Abi, well it was an amazing coincidence and David didn't believe in those?
"Listen Eric I have to find this bitch, I think she's the one I had a one-night stand with just after my pitch."
"No shit," Eric guffawed.
"I don't know what she did to me but I've almost no memory of the event even now."
"What are you saying Dave some kind of mental control, hypnosis?"
"I don't know what I'm saying but she played me and did it very well indeed, next she's cosy with your boss and McGill have my entire campaign."
"Bloody hell that's incredible, you think Natalie scammed you and brought the whole campaign to us but how did she do it, make you talk I mean?"
David recalled how he felt the morning after, hung over, battered, dry, lips swollen, "I'm not sure yet but I'm going to find out, I need access to Ryan's computer files."
"Good luck I don't have them and I don't know if anyone does, you'd have to hack him and for that you'd need a pro the best."
David knew hackers, some good most useless and only one actually fit the bill, only one could hack McGill and get away with it; pity she hated his guts.
It was the top flat in the block (it would be) in a very crappy sort of area where waves of junk washed up on shorelines of neglect, tiny islands of dog mess competed with lagoons of used needles and slicks of regurgitated curry. Small huddles of bored hooded youths watched David with disdainful expressions navigate his way through the social depravation muttering amongst themselves.
He stood in this world out like three sore thumbs and it was hard not to feel like an astronaut wandering around amongst stone-age savages. His gaze took in the boarded up shops and condemned signs everywhere, the lack of hope was palpable and he couldn't imagine anyone choosing to live in such a swamp.
Reaching a grill smeared with grime he pressed the wrong flat number on purpose, "You wanted some speed," it was the kind of place where speed, skunk, Charlie and E's would sell faster than under-aged girls.
Buzzed in he climbed the litter strewn stairs knowing that any lift it would smell like a public bog (possibly worse) and the exercise would do him good.
Nobody emerged from any of the flats, for which he was grateful and he reached the top flat unmolested, rapping hard with knuckles.
"Jane its David Perry," would she remember him after all this time would she care, a decade had passed since they graduated punctuated by sporadic emails on Friends Reunited, "I need to talk and it's beyond urgent," he hoisted the Tesco bag in his left hand, "I brought some groceries," Jane hardly ever shopped.
"Fuck off," said a muffled voice, "I prefer Morrison's," he had to smile and wondered where the spy cam was hidden, no doubt Jane had installed it herself and it was top of the range; she was like that, thorough.
"I need a hacker the best the world champion of hackers," he said calmly, "This is a big job with lots of cash."
Two chains, six bolts and a clunky key later he was looking at big glasses on a small face, a pelt of brown curls and a tiny mean bud of a mouth. She only came up to his chest on a good day and could still pass for an under-graduate in a kind light, the tracksuit pants, trainers and tank top were standard uniform for this area although the posh watch impressed him as did the gold rings (real gold he was sure).
Removing headphones Jane Costello adjusted her huge rimless specs; she was myopic and had been as long as he'd known her, chewing gum she looked down at his bag then up at his face.
"Why shouldn't I knee you in the balls," the question was not said with a smile, "Assuming you still have any?"
"Because I've brought a big fat wad and all of it could be yours," he knew he'd spoken the magic incantation when she stepped aside, waving him into a tiny pantry (flat would be too generous a description) dominated by a big Apple Mac, two Dell laptops, scanner, printer a couple of Ipads and an assortment of smart and not so smart mobile phones all of which were spagetti'd together by thin black cable.
Jane didn't go in for furniture much, she had stools not chairs, a single bed, a tiny dresser and lots of sci fi posters 'The day the earth stood still', 'Colossus of New York, 'Fiend without a face' plus some TV stuff like 'Survivors' and 'Blake's Seven' and a few stage shows like 'Wicked' and 'Rocky Horror'. The stacks of books and mags were mostly sci fi or dark fantasy with the exception of 'Banking crisis – a Masonic global heist'. He had to smile Jane hadn't changed much still the radical, he recalled a slanging match between her and some Tory apologist in the student union that ended in a punch up.
Smelling of weed and cheap curry the flat was a microcosm of Jane's life – private, selective, hi tec and reclusive.
She'd been just the same at college, her room there almost an exact copy of this cave it was like entering another world isolated from the one he knew the 'soviet republic of Jane' as one wag had put it.
"I've lost my job," David began with bare-faced truth; it was unlikely anyone outside the cosy bubble of media would be aware of this and then not all of them; he wasn't that big a scalp.
Jane studied him unimpressed, "I don't need your sob stories I have enough of my own."
"Here's the wonga," he revealed the contents of his bag not groceries but twenties, tens and fives tossed in like autumn leaves.
"Okay, sob on," Jane waved glaring greedily at the bag of abundance.
It didn't take him long, it wasn't an especially complicated story and he didn't know all of it. Idiot meets girl, girl takes him to room, flatters him, seduces him and rolls him – old as time right?
Not commenting Jane just listened occasionally fingering well worn copies of Ben Bova and Ray Bradbury.
"I think she drugged me in some way," from an inside pocket he produced printouts, the fruits of a Google search into date rape drugs.
This time Jane reacted by losing interest in her favourite authors and it took a lot to make her do that Ben and Ray were gods, "Date rape," she gasped, "You're kidding me?"
"I'm grasping at straws here Jane trying to figure out what she did to me and why I can't remember any of it, apparently memory loss is one of the signs."
"Guys use these on girls Davey boy," the cynicism was back and he noticed some of her other books 'women and socialism' alongside 'killing the baby doll' and titles on suffragettes and feminism. Jane the radical, the outspoken one, even the group they'd belonged to had been her idea Misogyny, he'd played guitar she'd been on synthesizer. It lasted two acrimonious terms producing a lot of covers and nothing much original then after one Easter break there was a massive row and everyone walked; he mourned its passing still.
"I was shocked by how many drugs there are," he admitted letting her see some of the printouts, "Look at this benzodiazepines, GHB, GBL, zolpidem, zopliclone, ketamine."
Holding up a hand Jane took some of the sheets, "Rohypnol is the one in the media all the time, roofie they call it on the street it's used to spike drinks."
David said, "I don't think that was done with me, the only drinks I had that night were at the bar as far as I can recall and there were no glasses in the hotel room when I woke up unless she cleaned them and took them with her."
"So you're saying she spiked you some other way, food?"
He shook his head, "I don't think I ate anything in the hotel."
"How can you be sure?"
"I was too wired to eat too excited, post-pitch buzz you know."
Eyes rolling Jane sifted through the sheets which were a confusing mix of medical and street terms, "It says here that these drugs can be delivered in drink, food or as a spray," she frowned, "But the newer ones are contact drugs."
"You mean by hand, it was on her fingers?"
The sheets were lowered, "Isn't this all a bit paranoid even for you Davey, what if she was just an amazing fuck."
"I'm sure she was but I don't go in for pillow talk."
"Where you pissed?"
"I've been on the wagon since I broke up with Rachel my last girlfriend and no I didn't score any coke with the boys beforehand yet when I woke up," it made him grimace just to recall the symptoms, "I'm damn sure I was medicated."
Tossing the printouts back Jane sat on her bed with its puke green duvet and curry stained pillows, "So you want to track this bitch down, what then?"
He hadn't thought that far ahead, "I just need to find her."
"So she can confess on live TV; I don't think so, you find her, she denies it, you get rough and she sues you."
Somehow David didn't think it would end that way at least it didn't in his fantasies, he found Abi, confronted her and the truth came out.
"Let's just find her and worry about sequels later."
"What do you have to go on, give me a lead?"
David gave up the name of Ryan Todd CEO of McGill, he'd hired Abi as a consultant and probably bedded her, he'd certainly paid her so he had to know something. It seemed likely Ryan had been acting on his own initiative; David couldn't believe that theft was official McGill policy even in the rat race of advertising. Ryan had made his reputation as a maverick with an 'anything-goes' philosophy but he was also a lone wolf.
"Can you hack McGill; can you hack into Ryan's private files, his email traffic?"
Jane smirked like he was asking a kid if she liked candy, at college she'd hacked into the dean's email, most of the tutors and the exam board then the department for education. At 20 she'd been the best hacker not just on their campus but every UK campus, and unlike most of the others she didn't get caught she got first-class honours instead.
"He may have deleted everything," she pointed out. Unlikely Ryan was too vain it was another of his characteristics, he liked to gloat to bask in the fact he'd pulled off a coup. Ryan had begun his career with Topline before cutting loose on his own; David knew the man's reputation only too well. They weren't friends but had shared bar stories.
"Come with me," he'd suggested once over champagne to celebrate his escape and David had been tempted, almost until his natural caution won out his sense of overriding loyalty.
"Let's find out Jane, Ryan hired Abi under the name Nancy Delacourt a consultant, which these days can mean anything you want it to."
Sidling over to her Apple Mac Jane set to work, she was soon on the main website then a menu of top executives, naturally Ryan had the biggest profile but much of it was password protected.
Studying the bio Jane asked David questions about the man all he could remember – hobbies, habits, music, girls. David was surprised by how much he remembered stuff that just came back to him from snatched conversations, rumours, things he'd found out about Ryan since from ex lovers and ex rivals.
Jane tried a few passwords without success then, "We're in," up came a new menu totally different from the bland corporate stuff, "A girl's name you'd be amazed how often guys do that, fucks, fantasies and frustrations," she said knowingly, "The three effs, a hacker's dream."
David studied a secret blog, covert files, emails, "Try Delacourt and see where that takes us."
Delacourt got them into the emails, lots of emails, lots of Ryan to Nat and back again several a day every day until recently.
I've got it; David Perry's pitch, how much is it worth?
Feeling his blood run cold David sat back and exhaled noisily, the email was dated the day after…
How much do you want?
Ryan was hooked.
Half a million paid up front.
Ryan had responded, £100,000 up front the rest on delivery.
They haggled a bit but eventually Delacourt had agreed, a meeting was arranged and the next email was after this.
Money's in your account now, from Ryan.
Well done lover here's a taster of the Perry material as promised.
There was a small attachment and the moment he read it David experienced shock, revulsion and a return of the cold fury he'd felt over being sacked. He could take this to Topline to Callum as evidence but he wasn't going to, this gave him Ryan but he didn't want Ryan.
Jane cut in, "There's some video here, want to see it?"
Two people were making love in what could have been the same hotel room but the man wasn't David not with a tiger tattoo on his left buttock, not with those muscles and not with Ryan Todd's chiselled features and bad boy smirk a she was well and truly serviced by an athletic blond with azure eyes and high cheekbones.
Abi kissed her lover, nibbled him and rode him hard she was a noisy fuck and no mistake, uninhibited.
"That's her," David's voice was arctic with a hit of Sahara.
"Impressive," Jane murmured, "But why film themselves or are they that vain?"
He could imagine Ryan arranging the little peep show but maybe Abi was behind it, maybe she always filmed herself during the act as a little memento. The video was mercifully short if graphic ending before orgasm, his or hers.
"There's another video," Jane remarked.
"More Ryan and Abi," it was hard not to feel bitter and used?
"It's tagged David."
The hotel room took shape from a mass of pixels and there he was in bed just lying there slightly propped up on a pillow, Abi was hovering nearby but she wasn't in bed or naked and they weren't having sex.
"She's talking; can you get sound on this?"
Abi's voice drifted eerily from the computer low and husky but she wasn't whispering sweet nothings, she was asking questions and like a parrot he was answering them. She quizzed him like a CID officer, the questions very specific and all about his recent pitch; she wanted lots of detail how, why, where and when.
"I'm a dope," he said miserably.
"Sounds like hypnosis," Jane picked up his printouts, "Zopliclone is a hypnotic," ignoring this he watched the show.
His vacant expression and flat delivery contrasted sharply with how animated he was at pitches, really throwing himself into it. His cheeks, neck and lips were smeared with Abi's lipstick thick and ruby red.
"I'm in a trance," he sat back, "Totally zonked out."
"She's used a hypnotic drug Davey, but how was it delivered?"
"I told her everything, chapter and verse like a fool; I was a traitor after all."
The firm had been right to fire him, he'd let them down and blabbed everything his whole campaign just given away with no resistance at all.
"Be easy on yourself she played with your head," Jane advised.
"But how do you get someone into such a trance so fast, what kind of drug could do that?"
"When we find Abi you can ask her, right now the drug isn't important," killing the video Jane began a new search, "There has to be a lead to Delacourt, a credit card trail, car rental, something."
Another password was required but it didn't take her long to find it not based on what she'd seen, "Ryan has two apartments in London, one near his work and another in Hammersmith; what would he be doing there?"
"What has this to do with Abi," David demanded?
"As Delacourt she'd need to be close to the action to reach you and Ryan; you think this bitch commutes? Look here, the Hammersmith place is empty most of the time except recently, that's where Abi's staying."
Standing up David distanced himself from the computer as if contaminated by what it had revealed. Abi had stolen his ideas she had taken them not from his head but from his tongue then she'd sold them to McGill for half a million. Industrial espionage he supposed a honey trap or a modern variation on both, good god she was a pirate, a vampire.
The irony was it all sounded like a plot from one of Jane's sci fi novels, "Does Delacourt not have a company or website," he asked?
"Nah too smart, scam artists like Abi don't have anything that's on the radar, you should check out the Hammersmith apartment though."
"Come with me," it was part plea and part instruction and was rewarded with a big eyed look.
"I'm a hacker not hired muscle."
"I'll pay more," simple bribery.
"How much more?"
"You tell me."
"I'm not much use in physical situations Davey, in case you hadn't noticed I'm small and wear specs."
He didn't want to be alone when he confronted Abi because he didn't trust himself to keep his hands off her throat, plus he wanted a witness when the truth came out someone to make a statement.
"You don't have to do anything Jane just be there."
"Why don't you just blackmail this jerk Ryan Todd, it's what I'd do; fuck him over for cash compensation and a new job?"
Tempting but it wasn't really David's style plus he didn't want to work for Ryan, "Maybe later, Abi's my number one priority."
"Abi can't give you your reputation back."
"I'm an obsessive, compulsive personality Jane most writers are; I need closure on this, I have to square the circle by finding her again."
"Getting money's easier plus revenge on Ryan would be nice."
"So you blackmail him," David waved, "After we find Abi."
He headed for the door, "Coming?"
"No, yes, no," the glasses were removed and wiped, "No way, definitely not."
"My god you are keen," he joked.
"I'm not doing this Perry, forget it."
He picked up the bag of money and shook it, "You're not thinking about rare, out of print books, boxed sets of audio CDs, author signatures, SF conventions, how far do you think this will take you?"
"You can still knee me in the balls."
"Don't think I won't."
He unlocked the flat door from it's inside a one eyed movie cyborg glared at him with a single red eye, "Got to catch me first, four-eyes."
A bulky Asimov compendium barely missed his head.
They took his car because it was new, flash, fast and Jane didn't actually own a car. She had once some second hand Mini but there was no sign of it now.
The block of apartments in Hammersmith was classy, very classy indeed in fact probably beyond his earning curve; sorry ex earning curve because like Jane he was now unemployed.
Somerset Block like Warwickshire, Cirencester and Hampshire was home to six plush big strictly-for-rich-folk apartments. To enter the block required a PIN which you keyed into a small pad left of the door.
"Can you hack it," David asked as they pulled up and he thought again of his hands around Abi's throat, it was becoming his favourite fantasy?
"Already did slow poke," out before him she hurried to the keypad to look it over first, brushing some imaginary dust off it.
"Wonder how much one of these costs," David mused adding zeroes to each estimate he could come up with?
"Twelve grand a week, I looked it up. If Abi's not home maybe you could move into hers."
"Twelve grand," David spluttered still rendered breathless by London rents?
"A snip apparently," the door clicked, hummed, a light flashed above and around it then the barrier between them and Somerset floated inwards about two inches before glided to the left.
"Very Star Trek," David beamed, "Just your sort of thing."
"I'm more of a Babylon 5 kinda girl," she led him into a vast pentagonal lobby with two rubber trees, a Volvo sized vending machine and an emergency room for nappy changing and breast-feeding.
"Jesus can't the mums here get to their flats in time," Jane winced, "Look at this Davey, more than sixteen different kinds of coffee – latte, mocha, cappuccino, expresso."
"You can satisfy your caffeine fix later," he recalled Jane's obsession with her drug of choice then studied the elevator, it to had a security keypad and would require a PIN presumably not the same PIN that opened the outer door, which was already hissing shut like a bank vault.
"Can you access this or are we climbing," damnation the stairwell had a keypad to?
"I get three goes at this baby," Jane said flexing her fingers, "Bet you it's a close variant of the door code."
"You mean you don't know it; Jane I'm shocked."
Telling him to piss off she studied the keys like they had esoteric symbols embossed on them, after a few moments she hit six keys, the light flashed red and red obviously meant 'tough shit you lose'.
"Okay that was a long shot, I'll get lucky."
"Jane what if you don't get the right PIN in three goes?"
"Simple the door seals and a signal is sent to the security company who will call the filth, we get busted and your reputation sinks even deeper."
Not the best answer he could have hoped for, "Your second try is your last," he told her.
"Don't be a wuss Davey boy."
"I'm serious," he was to.
"Do you want to find this bitch or not?"
"Not at the risk of being arrested."
The glasses regarded him like a day old turd they'd stepped in then Jane cautiously made her second attempt – red light.
"Oh that's odd," she remarked like she was doing a crossword.
"Right we're gone," David backed away, "Come on Jane we're leaving, it was a good try but…"
Fingers hit keys as she defied him and went for the disastrous third try, Perry's heart almost stopped right then, oh no the stupid….
Green light; he couldn't believe her jammy luck, not red but green and the lift door swept aside. Below big glasses a bigger smile blossomed smug in its triumph.
"You wuss come on, never doubt me again."
He would and probably more than once but joining her in a small bungalow with all mod cons he felt himself relax a bit, just a bit. Jane hit five and they rose, her waiting for him to deliver a grovelling compliment; it was slow in coming.
"Well," she asked, "Oh Jane you were fabulous I've never seen anything like it, you're such a genius what would I do without you?"
"I'm gagging please stop."
"You're so insightful, courageous and cool headed unlike me, worthless lacker of balls or spine."
"Enough or I'll mist your glasses."
It was an amazing place; David had steeled himself to be impressed but he was blown away, so this was what twelve grand a week bought you. The size, style, colour scheme and little luxury extras made him whistle, boggle and undo his tie.
Jane to was impressed, "It's a fucking movie set," she was right it was and the movie would be set in Beverly Hills the home of some billionaire, the star would be Richard Gere or Robert DeNiro and deal with high-class shenanigans amongst the disgustingly rich and hedonistic.
"Look at the size of the lounge, you could get six flats in there and still have room for a car," Jane was going to mist her own glasses at this rate. David studied the huge mirrors, each man sized and some were man shaped, then there were the vast armchairs big enough to hold an elephant.
Jane studied the bar; it was not a mini bar but an actual life sized bar and well stocked to with pumps and optics.
The plasma TV was like the front end of a bus, he felt he could have walked into it, his own was big but this made it look like a vanity mirror.
"How the hell does Abi afford to live in a place like this," he mused?
"She doesn't Ryan picks up the tab," Jane reminded.
Moving from one artefact to another David touched a skinny human made of glass, a carved wooden elephant, some tall stemmed glasses of cut crystal and a lamp designed to look like a man's genitals.
"Oh this is classy," he remarked dryly.
"Bigger than yours," Jane quipped.
"How would you know?"
"Keypad, three chances," the smirk was infuriating.
"You're never going to let me forget that are you?"
No said the enduring smirk as Jane took herself into the bedroom, the huge water bed was perfectly round with white sheets and heart-shaped pillows, mirrors on ceiling and left side, walk-in wardrobes all of them totally empty except for naked clothes hangers.
"She's flown the coop," Jane said out loud, "No threads and no suitcases I can't see any cosmetics either."
"Of course she's gone," David said dryly, "She got what she came for."
"Self pity's an ugly emotion Dave."
Opening some draws he peered inside at nothing, Abi hadn't left a trace of herself behind not so much as a used tissue.
"But why abandon a cosy pad like this," he speculated knowing he wouldn't?
"Answer's obvious she's got another stashed away somewhere," Jane moved into an ensuite bathroom fully tiled; pink loo, matching bidet, walk in shower big enough for a hockey team and a bath two dolphins could have swum around in.
"I'm moving in," she declared, "This is my new squat."
"Bit big for you Jane."
"Not the flat the bloody bathroom, it's got everything I need."
"Not enough power points for all your PCs and tablets," David popped his head into the shower so he found the clue, bending down he took it from the plug hole amazed it hadn't gone through.
Holding the red tinted object up he let Jane see it and she said, "Bitch left a claw."
The fake nail looked expensive it was bendy but didn't break and the tip was sharp enough to open a small cut on one of his finger tips, ouch claw was right it was like a razor.
"Could we get DNA off this," he asked?
"Cops could but why should they?"
"I know cops," he answered tartly.
"Oh yeah your old man was in the filth wasn't he," Jane provoked. Yes thought David his father had been a DCI back in the old days and a good one, not that he ever saw him much, cops and families didn't mix.
As a boy he'd looked up to his father to the point where he'd seriously considered a career in the police; he hadn't spoken to his father in a long time.
"He might be able to get this analysed on the QT."
"If you spoke to him, if he wanted to help us, if he knew any tame scientists."
Okay so it was a long shot but straws were all David had to grasp them and a single fake nail.
"We haven't got any other leads Jane in case you hadn't noticed, we can hardly dust this place for prints and Abi has inconveniently not left a forwarding address scribbled on a fag packet."
Waving him quiet Jane applied her ear to a tile, there were two apartments on the top floor and the bathroom backed onto next door.
"Nosey neighbour," she breathed.
"Come on Dave people like to gossip even in gaffs like this."
"We can't question the neighbour, he'd get suspicious."
Jane sighed, "It's a she actually."
"How do you know that?"
"Choice of music," he couldn't hear a thing but followed her out of the apartment and up the corridor, next door's door opened before they reached it and a woman with dyed black hair emerged looking sheepish and a bit stoned. She was older than Abi, closer to 40 than 30 but with good bones and a trim figure.
The clothing was hippy chic and seemed to fit her personality, the high boots reminded him of a cowboy and the poncho was a throwback to some earlier decade. Clearly smoking a spliff the woman made no attempt to hide it although she did totter slightly on her own threshold.
"Hi," Jane said breezily like she'd known this woman for years, "Great party last night wasn't it," David was totally lost by the upfront approach, "Jane and Dave," Jane gave their real names much to his horror.
"Oh hi," said the hippy woman a little uncertainly and tottered again giving him the excuse he needed to go over and gallantly hold her by the elbows, she was skin and bone under the clothes not a hint of body fat.
"You okay," he asked knowing the answer, "Maybe you should sit down," he took the cigarette, "You really put it away last night," joining in with Jane's little fiction he offered a charming smile.
"Yes darling," said the woman and kissed him actually have him a big wet smooch on the cheek much to Jane's amusement.
They helped her inside her apartment which was cluttered with an amazing array of stuff from glossy photos, to magazine covers, small busts that proved to be awards and a lot of DVDs. The furniture was cheaper and older, the surfaces less clean and instead of a bar there was a freezer cabinet.
The place stank of weed and various other chemicals not to mention booze, tobacco and coffee. David saw some mail addressed to Anna Palk, "Here we go Anna," he escorted his charge to a sofa and flopping onto this she kept hold of his neck.
"Oh Dave you're such a man," another smooch this time on the lips before he could break free.
Chuckling Jane patted him on the back, "She likes you."
Yes rather too much he mused wiping the lippy away with a Kleenex, "Anna," trying to make his voice husky and alluring he asked, "Do you know anything about your neighbour Ab….I mean Natalie?"
The eyes rolled and he wondered just how much weed this woman had put away.
"Natalie," he repeated, "Next door."
"Cow," slightly slurred but an unmistakable judgement, "Stuck up cow, too good for the likes of me. I'm an actress you know; well sometimes, did you see that toothpaste ad set in a bus stop?"
"Oh yeah you were brilliant," quick as a flash Jane licked her own teeth in appreciation.
Anna beamed, "I was, they turned down 200 other girls you know."
Having not seen the ad David swapped a wink with Jane, "Well they wanted the best," he said stroking Anna's ego.
"Damn right, six lines I had in that, six."
"I bet you've done drama to," Jane primed.
"Did a Midsomer two or was it three years ago, crushed by a bloody tractor in the first scene then I did Law and Order UK as a…."
"Tell us about the cow next door," David prompted to get things back on track.
"Bitch, bloody high and mighty madam with her designer gear and fake nails."
"Yes but where is she now, we need to find her."
"You do, well good luck sexy; buggered off hasn't she in that flash Mazda."
"A Mazda," Jane echoed.
"XL, blood red like her lips, used to swan around in it like fucking Cleopatra, took off yesterday."
"Did she say where," David forced a smile?
"Wouldn't tell me darling, hardly swapped two words, maybe she's at that posh gym you know the ones the celebs use."
David was lost but Jane knew it, "Tunney Street ex clothing factory."
Anna winked back, "All the soap loveys go there, too pricey for me though, scented treadmills can you believe; bloody posers."
Okay so they had a car and a gym but it wasn't enough, these were peripheral details what they required as an address or a name, something or someone to track down.
"Where does Nat live when she isn't here, I mean she must have another pad somewhere girls like her always do, a boyfriend maybe."
Head lolling Anna became melancholic, "Why would she tell me I haven't worked in….how long is it now – June, May or was it April – that tampon ad Sue and Sam, I was Sam the maxi pad."
Shaking his own head David backed off they were getting nowhere exploring Anna's moribund career. Jane had a go, "Did you ever have a ride in the Mazda, did Nat take you anywhere?"
"Not me peaches, too common, now if I'd won a Bafta…"
David was grim, "This is hopeless," he grunted between his teeth, "She's totally out of it."
"Gym and car," Jane ruminated.
"What use are they?"
"Both will have websites that can be hacked, one requires membership and the other a car rental agreement."
Yes but was that enough, "Seems a bit thin to me."
"It's all we have."
Maybe, "Anna did Natalie have any other friends around here, did she mix with anyone at the party?"
Eyes half closed the actress toyed with a fake diamond ring a piece of tat perhaps used in an ad, "I don't know I don't think so, why should I care; bloody cow."
Gym and car it was then, he could have screamed in frustration.
The gym website was easy, lots of glossy graphics and gyrating bodies, celebrity names and high prices. It was owned by an ex soap star David remembered from years ago, a piece of beefcake as wooden as a fence but a minor heart throb before he began losing his hair and charm.
Jane hacked the site swiftly; security was rubbish and cheap despite the high prices.
"Here she is," Abi's face popped up, hair combed back and features slightly damp after a good workout, "Gold membership naturally, joined six months ago payment in advance by cash; shit. A credit card would have given us an electronic trail to follow."
"So this is a dead end?"
"Unless you want to watch video of her performing with a bunch of actors."
"I've seen quite enough Abi videos thank you."
The Mazda website was next and it was predictably tougher and more corporate with a good firewall, then again Jane ate firewalls for breakfast, even so it took her longer to blag a cod
Abi's face appeared now made up and with more curls and they were brunette, the sophisticated executive woman only now she was called Carla Spinetti.
"Carla," David gasped, "So she has a third identity."
"Wonder which one is genuine if any of them are," said Jane?
It came up 36 Acton Side New Developments, "Where the hell in London is that?"
"It isn't in London," the rest of it came up – Birmingham.
David blinked, Birmingham? "She has a home in the midlands?"
"As Carla Spinetti."
"Is this current?"
"The rental agreement is, expires in nine months."
"So this must be a real address?"
Jane shrugged, "Maybe she's gone back to Brum after all she's finished here isn't she."
"Do a Google search for Carla, see what comes up."
This didn't take long as there was nothing to find, a few Carla's but none of them looked remotely like Abi.
"Dead end unless we go up there," Jane waved, "Want to?"
All the way to Birmingham it was a long hike and might be fruitless, on the other hand what else did they have?
Then his eye was caught by a news item on Google AD MAN SUICIDE, it was in Birmingham and recent.
"Click on that," when Jane did so a brief article appeared.
Advertising executive Tony Gooch, 33, found dead at home, overdose suspected. Mr Gooch was a top writer at METCALF-ATLEE and tipped for a seat on the board until he was suspected of leaking vital company secrets and suspended. Mr Gooch leaves a wife and two daughters.
Talk about déjà vu, David whistled through his teeth, company secrets, suspended it was an M.O. he knew only too well. Had Gooch been another Abi scam, it sounded like it?
"It's her," he said with certainty, "She did the same thing to him as she did to me."
Jane blinked, "But he killed himself."
"You think it hasn't crossed my mind, his poor bloody family."
Jane checked the suicide was three days old, "The cops will be looking into Tony's background, they might find Carla."
"No they won't she's too good, she changes her name, appearance, job, wardrobe and location, talk about DAY OF THE JACKAL."
"The Bruce Willis movie?"
"No the original, Edward Fox I think, his character was a ghost, a wraith."
"But the jackal was an assassin," Jane pointed out then thought about it, "Yeah point taken."
He stood up they were achieving nothing online it was time to take a risk to ratchet up the pressure, "Print out the address in Brum."
Hitting a key Jane made a portable printer shake and chirrup before it disgorged a hard copy, "I'm not going all the way to Brum."
This time he didn't argue or negotiate he didn't have the energy, "Fine."
"You don't mind?"
"Why should I mind?"
"No bribe, no insult; I'm disappointed Davey boy."
He couldn't expect her to chase around the entire country after him, London was one thing but this was another city, "I'll ring you."
"You'll ring me? Is that it, thanks and goodbye?"
Shrugging on a jacket he checked his reflection in a Darth Vader shaped mirror, he needed a shave and a good sprucing up, "This isn't your fight Jane."
"Fuck you say," on her feet she found a coat and Woolley hat with a ring of police boxes going around it.
"Your coming," he was surprised?
"You're not dumping me now; this is too interesting; you think I don't want to nail this bitch after what happened to Tony Gooch?"
A sympathetic Jane he wouldn't have thought it possible, "I need to freshen up first, change my clothes; I feel like a bin bag."
"Yeah you resemble one; still it'll give me a chance to check out your flat."
"Penthouse if you don't mind; I used to be a contender."
"Come on Marlon Brando I'll let you impress me with the capitalist dream."
He had to smile at that, some dream it had turned into a nightmare; how quickly a man could fall off his perch and how tenuous his grip on success actually was. One day you're a star copywriter and the next…Topline would have replaced him already, maybe they'd bump up Tim or Annabelle or import some talent from outside; either way he'd be old news.
David drove all the way to their first pit stop some motorway caff where he treated Jane to a fry up, which she devoured greedily, then she took over the wheel for the rest of the journey whilst he consulted a printed out map of the Acton area, suspecting Carla's home would be some luxury conversion, the one thing they knew about Abi was that she didn't do slums, she resided in top class apartments paid for by her lovers, after Gooch she'd already have moved on to her next mug.
The great sprawl of Birmingham soon made way for grotty back street tenements, ugly flats and council houses no bigger than bus shelters in which families of 4 and 5 squeezed in.
Then came an area of renovated new builds, luxury apartments indeed, all the old tenements and factories demolished and the land beautified to make way for spacious and attractive blocks of big high rental properties.
Acton Side was strictly young professionals only, the well heeled and rapidly promoted, entrepreneurs, executives and high-flyers. David was impressed by the jags, Daimlers, Ferraris and Porsches parked outside in a designated parking bay, hundreds of thousands worth of automobile guarded by nests of video cameras and high fencing.
No Mazda he noticed, then again Abi might be out; so where was apartment number 36?
The buildings formed a semi-circle and David counted nine of them, if there were 4 apartments per building then 36 would be in the last of them on the far right with a great view of park and river.
"Could we get into the parking bay do you think," David asked?
"Not likely and I don't want to try with so much CCTV."
He looked around did they dare risk parking on the approach road? From the back seat came a chugging, whirring noise it was being made by the portable scanner and printer Jane had insisted they bring along; both were attached to a couple of laptops. With her mobile she'd photographed both him and herself without saying why now the printer was going into overdrive, winking and shaking.
"What is that thing doing," he asked?
"Getting us inside Carla's apartment."
"I don't see how, couldn't you hack the door codes like last time?"
"I thought we'd have a bit more fun," Jane's smile was impish and he just knew he wasn't going to like her idea of fun.
"In what way?"
"Patience Davey boy you'll soon see."
Getting as close to the right block as he dared David pulled up as Jane pulled some stuff from the printer tray and put them into two bundles, wrapping a blue wallet around each, "Here this is yours."
David blinked at the document in his hands; it looked good in fact it looked genuine. According to it he was a detective inspector with the East Midlands CID assigned to the fraud squad.
"Jesus this is amazing, where did you learn to fake police ID?"
Tapping her nose Jane revealed she was a detective sergeant in the same force, "Let me get some contacts in," removing the huge gold fish bowl glasses she produced a small container, squinting myopically until the two contact lenses were in her eyes.
"There that's better; how do I look?"
Pretty good he thought it totally changed the configuration of the small face making it look more mature even sophisticated, less sci fi geek and more professional police woman.
"Impressive you could actually pass for a cop."
Wincing Jane reached for her door handle, "I'm not sure if I like that description."
"It was meant as a compliment."
"Yeah well it's just acting Dave."
Isn't everything he thought ruefully, "Seriously Jane you should use contacts more often?"
"Are you dissing the specs," moving around the bonnet she peered up at him minus any squint?
"Can't say I'm keen on them."
"Why not," now she was offended.
"They don't do anything for you, looks wise."
"Why should a woman be judged on her looks?"
Hands raised he moved away not willing to get into one of her rants on sexual politics, time and place his expression said.
There was a spy cam over the main entrance plus a voice grill, pressing a 'speak' button David stiffened his back, rolled his shoulders back and tried to affect an officious voice.
"Police," he said, "We need to," what was the word, "Examine one of the apartments."
Joining him still clearly annoyed Jane took out and held up her ID nodding for him to do the same.
"We have a warrant," she said unfolding a sheet of typed A4 he hadn't seen before, my god she'd come prepared.
"Apartment 36," David explained, "Carla Spinetti."
Nothing happened there was no reply from the grill and the door didn't open, David began to feel foolish and also nervous, what if security were checking their story with the local nick.
He threw Jane an anxious look to which she gave him the kind of expression that urged hold your nerve.
"Open up," Jane barked at the grill, "This is official business and we have the paperwork."
Not remotely geeky now her voice had a sharp, scary edge.
Was that a click, a bleep, was the door moving; yes it was gliding inwards. It had worked they'd pulled it off with brash confidence and fake ID; it was breaking the law surely, impersonating police officers was heavy stuff if they got caught it would mean the big house.
"Well done Jane."
"Well done yourself DI Perry."
"Okay so we're in, now what?"
"Lift or stairs," she waved at both?
"Stairs this time I think, I don't trust lifts when I'm committing fraud."
Jane was withering, "Scared it'll jam?"
"Be just our luck if it did."
"Rubbish inspector our luck is good and getting better, we're on a roll."
It was a much smaller place, oh luxurious and stylish even colourful with mock Georgian touches, hints of Tudor and a degree of Chinese glamour. The compact rooms were themed each with its own colour, historical emphasis and ethnicity. The lounge was Georgian, the kitchen oriental and the bedroom had pre-war elegance.
"Not up to her last pad," Jane decided, "Positively cramped."
"Still giant compared to yours," David jibed.
"Like the fluted pillars and dragons on the walls."
"Have you noticed the faces on the cupboard and wardrobe doors?"
"Who are they," Jane frowned?
"Ex prime ministers – Heath, Wilson, MacMillan that's Atlee I think."
She said, "A television in every room," these were appended to tables, chairs, bed even bathroom mirror weaved into the fabric of the place seamlessly.
"I feel like I'm being watched," David admitted.
"By the tele's, get a grip?"
No it wasn't that, it was as if the apartment had its own CCTV built in and he began to examine the walls looking for signs of it, while he did this she checked out the drawers.
"Any clothes or personal stuff or is this as sterile as London?"
Carefully Jane produced some kinky underwear – crotch less panties, a throng, stockings plus suspenders, a couple of peep hole bras and a tube of vaginal lubricant.
"Sexy," she mused, "Brand new so maybe she plans on coming back and not alone."
"Any receipts for those?"
"She's not that stupid but these are top quality."
Moving to a wardrobe he prized it open finding an off the shoulder print dress, a sexy black party frock, a variety of tops, pants and a couple of smart business outfits (matching jackets and trousers).
"We're getting closer Jane, this is a place she uses or has used recently."
"Wonder why the cops haven't been here, the real ones I mean?"
"How do you know they haven't?"
"No blue tape over the door, no evidence of fingerprint dust; no plod on guard duty."
From out of a small pine bureau he pulled the find of the day, "Check this out," he placed the object on top of the bureau and thumbed it open.
Joining him Jane studied keyboard and screen, the laptop was silvery, sleek and bore a Japanese maker's name he hadn't seen before. He pressed some keys with no effect; Jane turned the lap over, "The hard drive's in place so it should work."
"Does it need plugging in," he asked.
"Oh Dave," she gave him such a look that his cheeks burned, pressing different keys she had no more success so taking something from inside her jacket she plugged it into the lap's side.
"Auxiliary access port," the explanation meant nothing to him but as the AAP began to flash bright blue the screen of the lap flickered to life producing a screen saver and very apt one, two theatrical masks one smiling one crying.
"Okay now we're cooking," Jane was in her element and drawing up a stool she worked the mouse and F keys typing away at a furious speed.
Distracted he went to a window that overlooked the front of the building, he saw his car, the parked cars and another vehicle making its way towards the block it was a dark Citroen not a Mazda.
There were three people in the car and a sit pulled up they all got out; men in suits with an official bearing one had grey in his hair and was aged in his mid forties the other two were younger and stockier.
"I think the real fuzz just got here."
Ignoring him Jane kept typing, on screen menus flashed and died in rapid succession, he saw words like 'denied' or 'blocked' several times as she wrestled with the computer's firewall.
"I said the cops are here, I think we should leave; we can take that with us."
"Give me a second."
"We don't have a second; come on Jane we can't be found in here."
The computer gave a sharp ping and a box appeared one with text inside it HELLO DAVID, he glared at the words stunned the computer knew who he was.
"What's going on," he demanded.
"I think we just tuned in to Abi FM," said Jane.
"You're joking, how could she know I'd be here?"
"No idea but this is definitely aimed at you."
The men outside were talking, even through the triple glazing he could hear their voices; one had a mobile to his left ear.
CLEVER BOY AREN'T YOU said the text box and his heart missed a beat, "Is this a recording or is she typing it right now?"
"This is real time she's typing it," said Jane.
"So if she isn't here she can see us," he felt vindicated the place was wired for video, "Where are you Abi," he shouted at the ceiling.
COME AND FIND ME said the computer.
"Oh you can bet your life I will," David bellowed.
I'LL BE WAITING said the computer instantly.
Outside shoes approached the building entrance and David felt trapped, "Can you trace her," he asked Jane?
"What do you think I'm doing?"
"We'll take the laptop with us."
Having already gathered it up Jane threw him an impatient look.
BETTER RUN THEY'RE AT THE DOOR said the screen mockingly.
"You're the one on the run Abi; from me."
They exited the apartment and studied the lift; it was rising. Making for the stairwell they pushed open its door only to hear shoes clicking their way up. Oh great the cops were covering every angle lift and stairs, there was no way out.
Feeling like a cornered animal David backed out of the stairwell, "We're screwed," he said, "There's nowhere to go."
Jane was already dashing back into the apartment, "Come on Dave."
"We can't hide in there they'll find us."
"Just lock the bloody door."
He did so knowing it was a delaying tactic, "What are we doing they're bound to search the wardrobes?"
"We're not going to hide, here take this," handing him the computer she shot through the kitchen to a door he hadn't noticed, it led out onto a balcony.
"Close the kitchen door Dave."
"We can be seen from outside."
"Something tells me they're all coming inside."
"What's the idea we stay out here or fly away like seagulls?"
His gaze was directed to a flimsy frame of fire escape steps that looked none too safe, they were metallic, narrow and moving slightly in the breeze. Vertigo hit him like a baseball bat making him instantly giddy and nauseous; he'd never been great with heights.
"I can't climb down those," the very idea closed his throat and tightened his stomach.
Jane's eyes flashed the message that they had no choice unless he wanted to be found, questioned and arrested. Thumbing loose a low gate on the side of the balcony she stepped onto a ledge reaching for the steps with arms extended barely able to snag them, "Help me."
Not wanting to he edged over sure he was going to either throw up or pass out, "I've got a phobia about heights."
"So have I but my phobia of custody is stronger now help me; you've got longer arms."
Holding on tightly to the railing with white knuckles he extended his upper body towards the metal steps, "Got them," he pulled and the swaying zigzag of stairs canted in their direction, they had to be secured to the balcony by two hooked clasps, "Hold these tightly Jane," he looked for where the hooks attached to the balcony railing, "How do you do this?"
"Just snag them over the top of the railing," she told him through gritted teeth.
Pulling hard he heard the steps clang against the balcony metal on stone, it sounded like a cannon blast and he was sure the 3 cops would have heard it.
He got one hook into place and it was a good fit, one more to go, "This is harder I can't get it over the rail enough to hold."
"Give the hook a squeeze to secure it."
He was doing it did she think he was an idiot, his damp fingers slipped on the smooth curved metal of the hook, trying again he applied pressure but nothing happened; what if they needed some sort of tool?
Taking off a shoe Jane offered it, "Hit it with this, and hurry up Dave."
Shoe on metal would make more noise it would draw attention but what choice did he have?
He struck a blow wincing at the loud clang then another and a third, the hook altered shape, he tried to fix it, "Almost," he said trying another blow and another, "There I think that's it," he pulled at the hook but it held, "That's it Jane."
Not convinced she gave the steps a shake but they remained in place fixed and firm.
"Ladies first," David generously offered.
"Gee thanks superman," Jane said in a sarky voice, "Hold this for a moment," she handed him the lap top then gripping the steps with both hands launched herself up and forwards, the steps shook ferociously but did give way, poised in mid air and hanging on for dear life Jane gritted her teeth, hair blown three sheets to the wind.
"Jesus," she cried doing nothing for several moments then she looked back at him, "Okay hand me the computer."
"Wouldn't it be better if I kept hold of this," he remarked?
"With your head for heights I don't think so," said Jane and it made a certain sense; he was so shaky he'd probably drop the thing.
"Okay fine but take it easy," he called.
Her look was acidic but slowly she began to descend despite the cross current and shakiness of the metal steps progressing below the balcony.
"Jane," he cried?
"I'm fine, sort off; come on Dave follow me."
"Will it hold us both," he asked?
"Just move your arse Perry."
Unable to put it off any longer he stepped onto the ledge, took hold of the steps with ashen hands and tried one tentative foot, the whole thing shook appallingly and he felt sure it would give way with two of them monkeying around on it.
"Hurry up," half way down Jane waved at him impatiently.
"It's all right for you," less weight he thought, Jane could only be seven stones at the most he was closer to twelve.
Knees knocking gripped the metal skeleton; releasing gas from both ends he put his other foot on it, paused, prayed and committed himself to the climb down. Dear god it was the worst thing he'd done in his life since PE at school when some sadistic sod of a teacher had made him do an obstacle course.
Head spinning and stomach turning over he felt physically ill, it took every ounce of grit he could muster not to climb back up to the balcony.
From somewhere below Jane shouted at him to get a move on, bloody hell why was he doing this, why not just let Abi escape after all she wasn't his problem anymore?
He moved downwards shaking like a leaf; his speed was about one eighth that of Jane who was almost on the ground now, "Hurry up" she called.
"I'm trying my best damn it."
"You're like an old man."
Thanks Jane I really appreciated that, but it did speed him up a bit; at least there was no sign of the cops, they had to be deaf or daft to miss this little carnival side show.
"That's it Dave, not much further."
"I'm going to be sick."
"No you aren't," said Jane but she was wrong, he threw up in mid air splashing the tarmac below and only just missing her.
"Oh nice Dave very classy, aerial projectile vomiting."
The second his shoes touched the ground he felt his guts twist and spasm once more, "Oh no step back," and he threw up again this time into a bed of roses, "I'm sorry," he said miserably, "I can't help it," to Jane he had to look a total wimp.
There was no sarcasm from her though no withering put down like he might have expected and probably deserved,
"You okay," She finally asked following the second eruption?
No he thought I'm not but I'll get over it, had Abi viewed the whole embarrassing spectacle; where could she be watching from a window or a car or was she miles away in front of a PC?
"I'll drive," Jane offered and he didn't object, "Where to?"
"Public toilet so I can clean myself up."
"Somewhere quiet so we can have another look at the laptop."
The somewhere quiet turned out to be a public library a small affair all on one level, hiding in the reference section they opened up the lap and found several messages from Abi.
BRAVE CLIMB DAVE I'M IMPRESSED, DON'T WANT YOU DEAD then she'd written
GO AND SEE GOOCH'S WIDOW
Finally she wrote YOU'RE CLOSING IN BUT I'LL ALWAYS BE ONE STEP AHEAD.
"Gooch," Jane queried then, "Oh yeah the suicide but why go and see his widow, why would she talk to us?"
"I don't know but it's worth a try."
"She'll be in bits Dave, a car wreck."
He nodded most likely, "Have you any better ideas?"
She shrugged, "Got an address for her?"
"That's your specialty Jane."
Her lips twitched without humour, "Okay but Abi's playing us you do realise that don't you."
"Of course I do but the fact she's broken cover means she's rattled, we're closing the gap."
"Setting a false trail more like."
"Does the laptop hold any further clues?"
Jane scowled saying most of the files has been deleted, "I could try and revive them but it would take ages."
"All right what about the PC itself, she must have bought it from somewhere."
"Common enough model, you can buy them on any high street and she probably used cash."
"Let's check anyway," David was feeling lucky especially after losing CID so spectacularly.
Rhonda McAndrew (she'd retained her maiden name after marrying Gooch) lived in a posh exclusive 6 bed detached des res nestled in a salubrious suburb. The curved street was lined with spruce and largely deserted, it boasted private security firm called MIDLAND ARCH (privacy, protection, at your service 24/7) and no dogs were allowed in the neighbourhood even on a lead (we impound and prosecute).
The house itself was called twin peaks and stood high and back from the road on a raised hill of further exclusivity with a white gravel drive on a 30 degree gradient. David noted a big green SUV and a smaller but snazzier sports coupe on the forecourt; his and hers cars he decided. The SUV had probably belonged to Tony it looked like a man-toy.
Why should Rhonda see them or speak to them, they weren't cops they weren't even friends of her late husband?
"Do we use our fake cop ID's again," Jane wondered?
"No I think we should dump them to be honest."
"Rho would react better to local filth."
"I wish you'd stop calling the police 'filth' this isn't an episode of The Sweeney."
Ms McAndrew turned out to be quite a surprise; far from the grieving widow in black with a pale face and bloodshot eyes she was a smartly dressed woman in a lemon trouser suit, frilly blouse and bronze cowboy boots fully made up and sporting a pink cocktail. No hint of tears on the tough, intelligent face Rhonda stood out as a composed in-control attractive broad in her mid to late thirties with a gym toned figure and a strong gaze.
"I can spot an advertising geek from a mile off," she told David, "art or copy," she demanded then waved it aside, "You might as well come in but keep your mutt on a leash."
Bristling at this Jane coloured and looked about to say something when David said quickly, "My sister is in IT she earns more than I do."
The lie shocked one woman and pleased the other; Jane following him into the sumptuous house with its gargantuan open plan rooms, rubber plants and western theme – cowboy pix everywhere, wagon wheels, red Indian head gear and good painting of horses mostly mustangs.
"Tony was into all that stuff, the urban cowboy he called himself, personally I think it's all crap but you know men; little boys at heart."
"You said it," Jane agreed with sisterly affection.
"I must say," David remarked, "You're taking Tony's death quite well."
"Of course I am love, I get all his money, shares, assets and this house; frankly it's the least I deserve after ten years of him fucking around."
David couldn't hide his shock at this rather callous and indelicate remark; the man had after all committed suicide didn't that deserve some sympathy?
Rhonda however sounded relieved her husband was dead as if she was better off without him, if anything she appeared to be celebrating. David saw no photos of them together or of Gooch at all; it was like he'd been surgically removed from Rhonda's life.
"There were lots of women?"
"From day one, he even cheated on our honeymoon with a maid," without even asking Rhonda poured two more cocktails and waved to them – help yourselves. "It set the tone for our entire marriage as he went through various bimbos, PAs and such like; if I sound hard it's because I had to be to cope."
"But you didn't divorce him," David pointed out.
"What and lose all of this," Rhonda waved, "I'm not that stupid Tony was my meal ticket to a better life and I wasn't about to throw that away."
Jane asked, "What did you do before you met him?"
Pausing to sip her drink Rhonda sniffed, "Nothing much I was a model, one of many and by no means then prettiest; it's a short career and if you're smart you marry out of it which I did."
Bit mercenary thought David but he did say that, Rhonda had a point and at least she wasn't a mug
"So you stuck it out for a decade," Perry asked but eyes rolling Jane waved around the house?
"I grew used to the good life, it's hard to give all this up and in my view I'd earned it" she said wearily. "I wasn't letting Tony move some tart in here while I went back to a bloody flat."
Jane sniffed, "So you married for money."
Rhonda gazed down at her, "When I met Tony I lived on some shite council estate in a pre war 2 up, 2 down; who wouldn't want to escape that? I was a beauty queen in my youth, the only other job I've had was in Superdrug, 2p an hour; Tony was and is my way out of that life."
Waved to sit down they both did so, Jane on a settee he on a comfy armchair with a heart-shaped pillow; so far Rhonda hadn't asked who they were or what they wanted it was like she didn't give a toss.
"I'm sorry to bring this up but Tony's most recent conquest Carla Spinetti," David began until Rhonda interrupted him to say.
"Cheeky bitch do you know she came here to wish me condolences, just turned up bold as brass in a short skirt and lots of slap wearing designer gear Tony had no doubt paid for."
David blinked in surprise but allowed Rhonda to continue, "Said she was sorry for me that he was dead, that she hadn't realised he was so weak, screwing him over hadn't been personal it was just money."
"She admitted to stealing his ideas," David was amazed?
"Oh yeah, no remorse or anything it was just a game to her just cash in the bank. The bitch destroyed his career and reputation and she sits there in front of me telling me how much she made on the deal."
"Why didn't you attack her," Jane asked, "I would have torn her hair out?"
"I tried love believe me," said Rhonda, "Had my arm up my back and face pressed into the shagpile in two seconds, told me she could break every bone in my body if she wanted to that she was an expert, but she let me go instead and handed me this."
It was a long brown envelope, hand written in black ink, "You're David Perry the copywriter right formerly with Topline," Rhonda enquired, "She fucked you the same way as Tony?"
Stunned David sat there not sure what to say, in the end Jane took the envelope and tore it open to reveal some blocks of numbers and dot like equations or something.
Each block had four lines of ones, zeroes and various symbols; they meant nothing to David at all.
"Carla told you to expect me," David was aghast, "She described me?"
From a drawer Rhonda took a photo, it was recent and digital it showed him in the hotel bed.
"Gave me this, you can keep it if you like."
Perry was too stunned to speak for a moment, overcome by the audacity and arrogance of his opponent, a she now thought of Abi his protagonist.
"She told me her name was Abi, we met in a hotel bar; I'd just done the best sales pitch of my life."
"Yeah same thing happened to Tony."
"I've lost my job."
Rhonda nodded, "They fired Tony after years of loyal service just threw him out; he hung himself."
"I'm sorry," David looked away.
"I might have been once, but too much history," Rhonda poured herself another drink.
"This is computer code," said Jane, "I don't know what for yet."
"How does it help us," David squinted, "It's just gibberish to me."
"I'll have to decipher it."
Glancing at Rhonda he asked, "Did Abi…I mean Carla give you any clue as to what this was?"
"No love but she knew you'd hunt for her, try to track her down, said it was in your profile."
"Oh yeah she has detailed profiles on all her targets, she told me all about it their strengths, weaknesses, salary, any awards and sexual preferences; she was proud of it."
"I don't suppose you know where we can find her," asked Jane?
"Sorry love she wasn't that forthcoming, I don't even know if she's still in Brum; she moves around a lot."
"How many targets have there been," asked David?
"Well she's got plenty of money, bling and a flash car; quite a few I'd say. When you find her, if you do, what are you going to do?"
David shrugged, "I'm just focused on finding her I haven't thought that far ahead."
"Yes you have," said the widow with a wry smile enjoying her booze using it as an anaesthetic.
Clearing his throat David chose not to comment on that.
"Where did Carla meet your husband," Jane piped in?
"Conservative club on Meeston Road the big place, Cameron went there once; no idea if she met him."
"Might be worth a look," David speculated.
"No Dave this chick never uses the same hook up twice she's too smart for that, if we're going to find her at all it'll be online maybe using this code."
"Why gives us a code at all," he wondered, "It could be a bluff; misdirection."
"Only one way to find out."
Yes he supposed, "How much did Carla make out of your husband Rhonda, if you don't mind me asking?"
The glass was considered with a milky eye, "Not as much as me love, and that's all I care about."
There were more messages from Abi on the laptop RHONDA'S SUCH A BITCH ISN'T SHE, I LOVE WOMEN LIKE HER; GOT THEIR PRIORITIES RIGHT.
David had to smile, birds of a feather he mused.
YOUR LITTLE TECHIE NERD WILL WORK OUT THE CODE IN TIME SO NO MORE CLUES, IT CAN'T BE TOO EASY.
Jane sniffed at this but said nothing; they were in his car heading towards…..
FOURMILE HOUSE, APARTMENT 4B.
Abi didn't say what was there presumably not her but maybe another clue, she was playing them, stringing them along but they had no choice but to play her game and see where it led them.
"What was your impression of Rhonda," David enquired with a wry expression?
"I can tell you didn't like her much," said Jane, "Can't say I did either; hard-faced cow."
Perry couldn't disagree, "She didn't shed any tears for her late husband, I wonder how she treated him when he was alive?"
"He was a serial shagger Dave."
"Yeah but there are two sides to every story Jane."
"What are you saying that she drove him to it?"
"Maybe it wasn't sex he was looking for but sympathy; Rhonda seems a bit short on that commodity."
Thinking about this Jane shook her head, "nah it was sex."
"Not all men are philanderers Jane."
"Sure they are its part of being born a dick."
Fourmile House turned out to be a gloried motel that had seen better days, a seventies build in need of a new paint job and some fresh customers, a bit off the beaten track for sales reps or tourists with just three vehicles out front, a couple of vans and an old Toyota Corolla.
"Wonder who Abu screwed here," Jane remarked, "Does she have honey pots all over the country?"
"Seems a bit downmarket for Abi she likes her luxuries."
"So why lead us here?"
Shrugging he got out - 4B was around the back and they'd need a key, first they'd need to speak to the owner. David was against breaking in to yet another residence; he was in enough trouble as it was.
There was nobody in reception not even the usual work experience girl painting her nails, reaching over the counter Jane dangled keys, "Here it is 4B," she held up a trophy, "Well we haven't got all day."
4B was part of a shoebox-shaped annex detached from the rest of the motel by a worm of white cinder path and some dehydrated conifers, Jane opened up to reveal a bog standard domicile of bed, dresser, two chairs, mirror and toilet. Naturally the place was empty, almost every chalet was and David knew a dying business when he saw it.
Jane ran a finger over a surface it came away dusty, "Shoot the maid," she muttered.
He tried the bed it was harder than a slab of granite, a narrow single with nothing under either pillow or duvet. Going to the dresser she checked its drawers, "Nothing here," she said, "This feels like a waste of time."
Abi didn't waste time so there had to be a reason for the clue something for them to find, David looked under the bed then around it he moved the chairs to see if anything was taped to them or if the legs detached.
Wandering into the loo Jane studied bowl and cistern, actually opening the cistern to peer within it was a drug dealer's favourite hide; but not this time.
"Zip," she concluded, "We're going nowhere."
Perry swallowed a growing nag of frustration, "So why did Abi mention it, she was very specific?"
"It's a game Dave just a way of distracting herself; she's playing with your head."
"But why; she doesn't have to she could just lie low or go abroad; she isn't short of cash as we both know?"
"I hate to say this as it goes against the grain but we could involve the cops, show them everything we've got."
The idea had occurred and he couldn't deny it had a certain appeal, let the professionals handle it with their greater resources and man power but if they went to the cops there would be lots of questions and a degree of suspicion, "Not yet Jane."
Was it male pride, the desire to prove himself to get one over on Abi? "They might detain us," he said, "We've impersonated police officers to gain illegal entry," then there was their gymnastic escape down those metal steps.
Jane nodded, "Yeah good point plus we'd lose momentum."
Inhaling deeply he pulled a face, "Can you smell anything," he was getting a faint but growing odour?
She shrugged, "neglect, dust."
"No it's not that something stronger, chemical."
"You mean like a cleaner," Jane inhaled, "Yeah now you come to mention it," she glanced around, "What is that?"
"I think we should get the hell out of here," David watched as Jane bent down near a window to rummage around on the carpet, "What are you doing?"
"There's something here embedded in the wainscoting," taking out a small tool she began to dig away fastidiously.
Then he saw the smoke a thin tendril rising from the dresser that soon thickened and darkened into a nasty looking plume, there was a bright flash and a roar and next instant flames were jumping from the drawers and back of the dresser in a delta formation up the wall.
"Booby trap," he shouted, "Come on," a cough burst from his throat as his eyes started to stream.
"Just a sec," Jane beavered away.
"We don't have a sec come on Jane," soon the entire back wall was alight its paper peeling off in fiery strips to expose the plasterboard and wiring beneath flesh-like and veined.
"Got it," on her feet Jane ran to him with a tiny grey teardrop held in her tweezers, she to was coughing and crying.
"The whole place is going up," some sort of accelerant perhaps.
"Yes I can see that Dave shall we," he went to the door and tugged, horrified to find that it was jammed shut. He gave a pull then a shove then he kicked it, they were locked in.
"It won't budge."
Not hesitating Jane pocketed her tweezers, picked up a heavy stool and threw it through a window with all her strength; she wasn't just an expert at breaking into places it seemed.
As fire rippled across the carpet and ignited the bed David followed his smaller companion through the gap that had once been a window. Abi had tried to kill him, kill them both; good god she was totally insane.
"I'm fine stop fussing," wiping soot from her face Jane hawked and spat into the grass whilst he called the fire brigade giving a false name, the woman on the emergency switchboard didn't even question the name of Audie Murphy; not a fan of old westerns obviously.
"Well I'm not," David coughed again his throat felt parched, "I think I inhaled some of that chemical accelerant," the tops of his lungs felt heavy as though full of glue, "That was attempted murder."
"Means she's getting scared and desperate."
"She's desperate," David retorted?
"If she felt secure and safe she wouldn't have tried a stunt like that."
"Her stunt could have fried us alive Jane."
"Yeah but it didn't, we're still alive and on the case and we've got this," taking out the tiny grey teardrop she held it up for him to see.
"What is it a detonator," he'd never seen anything like it then again he was no expert on technology not the modern reductionist stuff?
"Camera stroke microphone, the chalet was wired."
"It's no bigger than a drop of water," he said.
"Oh you can make them smaller than this, hardly visible at all."
"Fascinating but how does it help us?"
Giving a shrug Jane continued to study the camera as they walked to the car, neither wanted to be around when the emergency services turned up.
HOT IN THERE WASN'T IT?
Abi's latest message was rich with mockery and David felt a rush of anger, he could have hurled the laptop out of a window.
CRACKED MY CODES YET?
Wiping soot from his own face David took out the sheet of ones and zeroes with odd symbols, "You said some files were deleted on the laptop, could this be a way of retrieving them?"
Blinking at him in surprise Jane suddenly gave him the toothiest grin ever, "You know Dave there are times when you come across as semi-intelligent," snatching the sheet she ran her finger down it and took out a red marker pen to circle a block here and there.
"I dunno maybe just maybe you're on to something," a notebook was produced its pages festooned with equally strange hieroglyphics, "You can retrieve deleted files nothing is ever totally destroyed even when a PC gets wrecked."
"Which this one isn't," he observed stung by the semi-intelligent remark.
"Obviously," the sarcasm was back.
"So do these codes help you, can you use them to track Abi."
"Maybe; I could use the technology back at my flat."
"Return to London," he wasn't keen?
"We don't have to physically return to London Dave I can hook up with my tech from here; find an internet café."
There should be lots in Birmingham he keyed the words into his GPS and several options were suggested that he pointed out, "That one is nearest."
"Go to Kwik Click instead, the wifi is tons better."
"Okay but it's a longer drive."
"Quality counts Dave, Kwik Click are a good outfit I've used before."
It reminded him of a school language lab lots of little booths with computer terminals and headphones, people hunched over keyboards ignoring each other locked into a world of their own. The aroma of coffee appealed to him as did the pretty female staff in their lime and treacle uniforms, the posters on the walls reminded him of Jane's flat.
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE along with other low budget science fiction offerings like THE OMEGA MAN and the original PLANET OF THE APES starring Charlton Heston; his favourite was the lurid EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS.
The café users were all very young, students or the unemployed; none of the staff looked much over 20 and he felt like a dinosaur. From the stares he got it was clear fellow users felt the same, a pretty girl brought over two lattes.
"Would your father like a softer chair," she asked Jane and David's face enflamed?
"Nah he's used to slumming it, aren't you papa," Jane couldn't have looked any more smug?
When the girl had gone David hissed, "We're the same age Jane in case you'd forgotten."
"Yeah but the thing is Dave you give off an older vibe, it's the suit and tie plus you're losing your hair."
Running fingers through his hair he told himself it wasn't true even though his fingers confirmed that it was.
On screen were four boxes marked
1 Apple Mac
2 Lap Alpha
3 Lap Beta
4 Modem 3X52
"How's it going," they'd been in the café half an hour already and he felt like a spare part?
"I've got everything connected now, sorry it took so long but the tech here is primitive compared to my lash-up at home."
"Can you crack Abi's codes," nothing else mattered to him; god he could have killed for a shower?
"Ask me in a few minutes they're pretty sophisticated."
"Are you saying she's as good as you?"
"No but whoever did these is pretty smart, probably another of her luckless boyfriends."
"The codes can't damage your IT can they, give them some sort of virus?"
"Dave I routinely check for poison, sludge and alien traffic so far I haven't found any."
"Yeah well just be careful, if we know one thing about Abi it's how devious she is."
He waved the girl over to order another latte, Jane hadn't even touched hers, "Bit more sugar us old timers need a sharper rush."
At least she had the decency to look abashed, "Can I get you a sandwich we do a wide selection," a menu was offered?
Yes he thought why not it would pass the time and he was starting to feel a bit peckish, "Pork, stuffing and pickle would be fine."
He was half-way through this when the boxes on screen began to light up in a sequence not unlike Christmas decorations around a tree.
"What's happening now," leaning forwards he studied the displays?
"We're getting something a couple of the deleted files are reformatting."
A new box flashed up called PNC, David was surprised.
"Police National Computer," he remarked?
"Let's have a look," hitting keys Jane isolated the new box and began to open it, "No there are two files marked P and C, I'll open P first."
David blinked at what came up
David Alan Perry born 20th March 1983 to Edward and Patricia, only child, educated Edengrove Comprehensive and Bath University, degree in media studies 2.1. Has had 7 lovers they are in order….
Each girl was listed along with a physical description, how long the relationship lasted and why it ended, favourite sexual positions plus locations. Also detailed where personal tastes, hobbies, favourite holiday destinations and even favourite meals and movies.
Then there was a breakdown of his career, successful campaigns with links to text or video plus any awards they garnered. It was nothing less than a comprehensive dossier on him.
David likes blonds preferably tall and athletic based on his previous choices, he prefers to initiate the contact where possible and in recreational surroundings like pubs, clubs and hotels. He has no experience of hard drugs certainly not of the date-rape variety.
"Bloody hell," Jane muttered, "Is all that true," but his enflamed face told her all she needed to know.
Commercially Dave is an 8 out of 10 because his campaigns so far have all been for blue chip clients and most won industry awards, research suggests he hasn't peaked yet but well do so with his latest pitch.
"How did Abi get all this stuff especially the girlfriends," he sat back rubbing his eyes?
"Not hard if you know how," Jane shrugged, "We're all of us just so many pixels."
"She's dissected me like a lab specimen."
"It must be what she does to all her victims."
David felt violated he had thought himself a private person but maybe he wasn't, maybe nobody was anymore.
"If P is me then C must be," but Jane was ahead of him and up came her file.
Jane Estelle Costello born June 3 1983 to Frank and Glenda, last of 4 children and only daughter, educated at Fort Meacham comprehensive and the John Arthur Special Unit due to ADHD. Degree from Bath university in IT a first with honours, left full-time employment by choice aged 25 to become a computer hacker has defrauded banks, building societies, supermarkets and property companies.
"At least she didn't mention your sex life," David said ruefully, "I didn't know you went to a special unit."
"Problem kid, never good with authority figures; so she's analysed me as well."
Jane is an obsessive compulsive personality with a narrow band of interests that she fixes on religiously, excellent IT skills though and this gives her a threat rating of 9 out of 10. Its likely David will enlist her aid due to their college affiliation and a clumsy one-night stand.
"As we hunt her she hunts us," he concluded, "But hang on she must have done all this research before she met me."
"Err hang on let's check the dates of these files, she did you over a 3 month period but I'm more recent."
"So she's had you under surveillance?"
"More likely you Dave and you led her to me."
"Why keep me under surveillance once the scam was over I mean?"
Jane brought his file back up and indicated an appendix at the bottom of it,
Father was a DCI, David was turned down for the police but has worked for a private detective where he proved himself tenacious and adaptive; he's someone who will fight back and dig for the truth.
"She did a threat assessment on you as well figuring out you'd chase her which you have, smart girl."
"Okay so we need to look at the other deleted files; how soon before they're available?"
"A few hours."
"Hours," he was appalled?
"We don't have to stay here, now my system's working on it we can log off and leave here."
David wasn't sure about Jane but he needed some down-time a bit of a rest, there was nothing they could do anyway without another lead and they needed Abi for that or one of the files.
"Let's check into somewhere," he said.
"What you mean a hotel?"
"Hotel, motel, guest house."
"We could just go home."
"No Jane now we're on her trail we have to see it through to the end, Abi isn't in London she probably isn't in Brum either but she's somewhere and the trail seems to be heading north."
The small face moved away from him for a moment pensive and thoughtful, "You're assuming I'm along for the ride that'll I'll just follow you."
"Sorry if you want to quit," he offered.
"This hunt could take days or weeks it might never end."
In his view it Abi wouldn't drag it out forever, she would have other victims lined up other scams to pull off, eventually she'd need to blow him out to give herself the freedom to do this.
"I think it will especially as we're crowding her."
"Okay so you want to be in at the kill, that doesn't mean I do."
"Fine if you want to go home I can't stop you but look at the C dossier, she knows all about you Jane every move, every scam, what if she hands that over to the authorities what will you do then; what will they do?"
Standing up and walking away from the table a few paces Jane did a few upper body stretches – shoulders, neck and arms while she thought about that. Finishing his sandwich David also got up feeling a bit stiff, he didn't want to do lose Jane or carry on alone, he needed her and her IT skills; how would he find Abi on his own?
It was probably selfish of him to expect Jane to go on taking the same risks but he had to admit that being part of a duet was more fun than doing this solo; they watched each other's backs and had complimentary skills.
"I have a life," Jane eventually said and he thought of the tiny cramped flat she lived in her squirrel-like existence was that really a life?
"I need your help," there he'd said it admitted a weakness.
"Doesn't mean I have to give it."
No that was true she wasn't obligated to him in anyway, his problem was not hers.
"Do you want more money?"
"That isn't what I mean and you know it, this isn't some intellectual puzzle or online game we could get killed."
Time to negotiate to cut a new deal, "Give me another 24 hours Jane one more day, see if you can discover where Abi got that micro-camera."
"I don't have to give you anything Davey boy."
"No you don't but I'd appreciate it if you did."
"Trying to play me think I'm a sucker?"
Jane was many things but not a sucker, she may have dropped out of mainstream society but she had skills, technology and a certain resilience he'd come to admire.
"I'm not sure I can do this alone, if I'm a match for Abi."
"There are always the cops or a private detective."
David had always been hands-on, he solved his own problems and this felt like something he had to deal with personally, Abi had made it personal and it still was; there didn't feel like any easy way out.
"Not my style," he said.
"Male pride," she mocked?
Yes there was an element of that and he wouldn't deny it, his pride had been dented, his reputation shredded and he wanted both restored.
"I'm fighting for my survival Jane, Abi didn't just take my job she destroyed my world, wrecked everything I hold sacred. I can't absolve myself by handing this over to a third party; even assuming Abi would let me."
Quiet while they left the café Jane followed him to the car not speaking again until they were inside it, "The way I see it this is your fight, it's Dave versus Abi and I'd be stupid to get between you; on the other hand she knows all about me all my secrets the entire CV and she could fuck me the way she fucked you, I'm not safe and may never be."
H said nothing waiting for her to make up her own mind, which she did fairly quickly, "No fence to sit on is there Dave no rock to hide under; it's all become rather personal for me to. Even if I quit now Abi might drop me in it out of pure spite and my god that girl knows how to hate, so I suppose it's you and me – at least for now until I get some better options."
The Premier Inn was basic but good enough, cheap and comfortable it provided two rooms which he paid for. Following a shave and shower, plus a change of clothes David made his way to Jane's room, finding her hunched over a laptop as per usual, on the bedside table was a science fiction paperback well thumbed.
"Find anything new," he asked in response she waved him over another deleted file had been revived; it was a list of names and dates which he studied.
"Mean anything," Jane enquired taking a sip from a can of Pepsi?
"Yes many of the names are familiar to me, they're advertising pros a mix of copywriters and art directors."
"You mean guys like you," Jane's smile was cheeky?
"If you like, wonder what the dates mean?"
Having already printed off a hard copy Jane went to Google and inputted the names one by one; it made very depressing reading.
Adamson sacked, Baer resigns, Collins leaves agency, Davis leaves country and so on…
"Victims," David said, "Abi's conquests, she did to them what she did to me; this is like her resume going back," he whistled, "Five years."
"15 guys in total," said Jane, "She's been a busy little bitch."
Yes he mused and made an awful lot of money stealing these men's best ideas, he checked the locations several in London and the south but others in Coventry, Darlington, Cardiff and Aberdeen.
"I wonder who's next on the hit list," he said, "If we knew that we might be closer to tracking her down."
"Well with so many names we have a pattern that my software package can analyse and come up with possibles," she told him.
"You mean your computer could predict her next mark?"
"Within certain parameters yes."
"How accurate would it be?"
"Better than a stab in the dark."
He told her to try it; they had nothing else to fall back on, "It would be handy if one of them was in this city."
"Oh wouldn't it just but life isn't that kind is it Dave."
"How long will it take?"
"I inputted the names and details before you came in so my program's chewing them over as we speak."
"You anticipated my strategy," he said not unkindly.
"I know how you think; actually it's not a bad idea."
"Yes and it was your idea not mine," he felt fresher after a wash and change of clothing.
Then Abi's laptop pinged she was getting in touch again - PREMIER INN THE BEST YOU CAN DO?
So she was still surveilling them she knew where they were, "Is it the laptop is she tracking us through that," David asked?
"Most likely she's probably secreted a bug in the hard drive."
"Can we write back to her using the keyboard?"
Jane waved, "Why not give it a try."
IT'S OVER ABI WE'RE CLOSING IN YOU, TIME'S RUNNING OUT.
Not very original or even true but it made him feel good to write it.
YOU'RE NO MATCH FOR ME DAVID I'M AN EXPERT AT THIS, I'M THE BEST.
He couldn't deny this she was certainly unlike anyone he'd ever come up against before; she ate ad guys for breakfast.
YOU'RE GETTING SLOPPY he typed WE'RE ON YOUR TRAIL.
Abi replied at once YOU'RE DOING EXACTLY WHAT I WANT, THIS IS MY GAME AND I CONTROL IT TOTALLY YOU'LL ONLY FIND WHAT I WANT YOU TO.
Swapping a look with Jane David grinned; IT'S YOU I'M GOING TO FIND ABI, GET RUNNING.
He waited for a reply but nothing came through then Jane's program coughed at them it had come up with just four hopefuls fewer than he'd expected the names were Max Gower, Paul Woodward, Grant Symonds and the last one was in Stoke his name was Ian Barr.
"Check out Ian."
"On it," Jane was already typing and soon a linkedin profile of Ian Barr was visible, he ran his own agency called Barr None with a local address he had an impressive resume as a CD for several top agencies and had won some prestigious awards; the bio said he was married with a new baby son.
David took out his mobile to try the contact number but Jane was alarmed, "What are you doing?"
"Should be obvious; I'm going to call him."
"You think he'll admit to an affair over the phone?"
This made Perry pause, "I could describe Abi."
"But you don't know what she looks like now or what name she's using it won't be Natalie or Carla; she isn't that stupid."
Good point, "We could go and see him."
"Give me the phone Dave," taking it Jane dialled the agency number reaching a receptionist some plumy voiced female clone that she put on loud speaker so he could overhear the conversation.
"Oh hello is Mr Barr available this afternoon for a pitch meeting, I'm a special consultant who provides profiles and information about clients and rival agencies?"
There was a pause as the clone consulted a paper diary, "I'm sorry but your name is?"
"Natalie Delacourt," Jane said quickly.
"I'm sorry Ms Delacourt but Mr Barr already has such a consultant whom he is in conference with."
"I see well thank you very much."
Within seconds Jane was hacking into the Barr None system trawling for email traffic, if Abi had made contact then she and Ian would already have exchanged correspondence. "Maybe Ian isn't a victim maybe he's a client and she's selling data to him."
"Good point this doesn't feel like her usual sting."
"If I can find some emails suggesting a meeting we can pin Abi down to a location."
"You mean catch her in the act; I like it."
"I'm in," Jane whooped, "Shit security," a menu flashed up and an email address ian8barr
Jane noted some traffic between Barr and a person called Diane.
Ian I got the lingerie I can't believe you figured out my size and taste so quickly, pretty horny stuff.
Di, wear it tomorrow and nothing else.
OK Ian why not, don't be late I'm wet for you.
Jane's eyebrows rose, Perry felt his mouth go dry, "But where are they meeting, it doesn't say?"
"Easy tiger let's go back to the main email menu and see if he's made any reservations recently, aha he has."
David blinked, "Christ I don't believe it."
Jane said, "Here, they're coming right here; Abi's bound to cancel now we're on site."
"Has she cancelled can you find another email from her?"
"No unless she did it by phone, which she probably has."
"If Ian has cancelled it'll be in the Premier Inn database won't it."
It didn't take Jane long to hack into this, the reservation had not been cancelled Ian was booked into 27B a double room two floors up.
"Abi won't show," he said, "She's too smart and she knows we're here."
"You're probably right," Jane didn't sound convinced.
"You think she's audacious enough to turn up anyway right under our noses," David couldn't believe it?
"I think she's capable of anything Dave."
"But she'd be totally vulnerable, we could confront her."
"Unless that's what she wants," Jane theorised.
"Why would she, no she'll cancel at the last minute."
He sat back feeling breathless and light-headed, Abi wouldn't willingly walk into a trap surely she was too intelligent, too much of a player.
"Dave you're assuming this Diane is Abi; what if she isn't?"
"Hell of a coincidence," he tossed back.
"Yeah but maybe that's exactly what it is, just a coincidence; Di could be a genuine consultant."
Eyes closed he massaged the bridge of his nose; Jane had a point there was no proof that Diane was Abi.
"Okay point taken but it's a lead we can't ignore; it might be here."
"What if it is, what are you going to do exactly jump out and say 'oi Ian this is the woman who destroyed my life and she'll destroy yours to' or are you just going to slug her on the chin?"
"I haven't thought that far ahead Jane I just want to find Abi."
"Who'll deny everything?"
"She can try to deny it but I'll be there and you'll be there."
Jane sighed, "So what are we gonna do camp outside 27B all night long?"
Yes another good point he roused his tired brain, "Are any of the rooms on that floor empty at the moment?"
Jane had to hack another menu to find this out, "Just one 27c."
"It's empty now?"
"Yeah, no booking for 2 days."
He produced his door access card, "Could you clone me one of these usable on 27c," he asked?
Jane smirked she could clone anything, "Neat idea you'll be onsite when Ian arrives."
No when Abi arrived assuming she would then Jane asked, "What about me?"
He frowned, "What about you?"
"Are we sharing 27c only it's a single room?"
"You can stay here; I'll call you if I need you."
"Giving me the brush off Dave?"
He was doing nothing of the kind just thinking of her modesty, "Do you want to share a room with me overnight?"
"I've no intention of missing the final act of this drama; if it is the final act."
"Okay but no snoring or farting," he said with a grin.
He let her take the bed deciding to sleep in a chair not that he slept much, Jane's question kept going around inside his head; what was he going to do with Abi?
It wasn't likely that she'd throw up her hands and confess, she'd tough it out deny everything make it a joke or play the 'outraged innocent' card, "Who me don't be absurd where's your proof?"
How would he break through this and convince Ian Barr, what if Barr got violent? Was it time to involve the police or should he do that later? Of course Diane might not be Abi in which case he'd look a total fool by acting prematurely, best to be sure first.
Why would Abi come here knowing he and Jane were present, what did she have to gain was she that confident she could outplay them?
"Will you be quiet," said a voice from the bed.
"Sorry did I make a noise," he hadn't been aware of it?
"It's your head I can hear the wheels turning," Jane's sarcasm never took a minute off.
"Something's not right Jane this is too easy, there must be something we've overlooked."
"Such as," sitting up she put a lamp on; the light seemed to fry his retinas?
"I don't know and that's what bothers me, Abi's a game player she calculates 5 moves in advance like a chess master; she wouldn't just blithely walk into a trap."
"Two of us and one of her, what can she do," asked Jane?
"That's what's keeping me awake, trying to calculate her strategy; she's too damn smart to make such a basic mistake."
Jane rubbed her eyes, "I must admit we did track her down rather easily, like she wanted us to."
"Exactly," he said, "If there is a trap here Abi set it but what can it be, there's a factor we've missed Jane something we're not seeing; Abi has another card to play."
"We could always pull out; we don't have to do this."
Run away when he was this close, it was unthinkable he couldn't just let Abi slip through his fingers he might never be this close again.
"I'm not backing down now," he muttered.
"OCD," Jane mocked and yes she was right he'd always been a bit anal a bit obsessive, it was what made him go good at his job.
"Attention to detail is the key to success," he said.
"Or madness," she quipped.
"What if," he had to get up and move around, "What if Abi knows someone here I mean apart from Ian Barr someone who will help her or hinder us?"
"Like who the bell boy, the girl at reception; you think she's bonking the manager?"
He threw up his hands it was a wild idea with no supporting evidence he was clutching at straws, who could Abi know - this was a run of the mill Premier Inn?
"Ignore me I'm raving."
"You have been from the start Dave."
"Don't you have any ideas or clues, have anymore deleted files been accessed?"
Giving a big yawn Jane flopped back down, "In the morning okay I need to sleep and so do you; you want to be fresh for the wicked witch."
Yes that was a point he'd be no use if he was exhausted, his brain fogged by fatigue.
On the other hand it was okay for Jane to sleep she didn't have the emotional attachment to this he had, she hadn't been fucked over by Abi and seen her career nose dive her reputation reduced to tatters.
Sneaking into the kitchen he opened a laptop and keyed in his user code, which Jane had provided, and brought up the list of Abi's victims. They were all men like him full-time advertising pros with a decade or more of experience a mix of writers, designers and cutting edge thinkers in a word creatives.
Abi was a vampire who fed off creative minds a parasite an idea-thief who stole concepts and campaigns and sold them along the line. How did she find these guys did she just trawl social media sites, advertising websites or was there more to it? Did she have someone who put her onto these men, was she from a media background herself?
The big problem was he knew so little about her like where she came from, what education she'd had, what jobs she'd done? Abi faked everything from her hair colour and clothing to her accent, cover story, where she lived.
What had she told him that she'd been a model, was that even true; had he tried to find out?
If she'd done modelling of any kind then somewhere there'd be photos right? Models were filmed all the time they had portfolios they were public property because they did fashion shoots, beauty contests, some of them got on TV or at least online.
Okay Abi wasn't her real name but it was a place to start he typed in Abi with an i and added the words model, actress and beauty.
There were literally millions of possibilities it was amazing how popular the name was and all the variations of it, how could he cut them down?
He looked for Abi in advertising; again there was a jungle of possibilities, he was getting nowhere fast. Names like Natalie Delacourt and Carla Spinetti were no better and sitting back he let out a groan; what the hell was he going to do how did he find a ghost?
Then something occurred he typed in the name of the man who'd topped himself Tony Gooch and moved into his word – lots of video, pix and info so he began to go back through them starting with the most recent to see if Abi turned up in any way, shape or form.
Shots of Tony with his colleagues celebrating yet another award in London, pretty girls by the bucket load but no sign of Abi.
David recognised some of the faces, they were girls and guys he often met at award ceremonies a mix of directors, art guys, writers and agents.
One of the pretty girls jumped out she was in a pink bikini, her arms draped around a younger Tony, she was slimmer with darker hair but it was definitely Rhonda McAndrew; so that was how they met she eye candy at the UK online media awards a decade back.
He noticed Rhonda in other shots to clothed this time and obviously more prosperous; well she would be with a ring on her finger she was Mrs Tony Gooch.
No Abi not a sign of her and sitting back David clenched his fists he was getting nowhere fast.
NOSEY AREN'T YOU the text bold and challenging hit him like a slap in the face; Abi was back online, I'LL GIVE YOU ONE THING DAVE YOU'RE PERSISTENT.
Heart hammering he tried to compose himself enough to produce a reply, but what could he say – where are you?
DID YOU KNOW WE SHARE THE SAME BIRTHDAY?
He blinked in surprise at this interesting little snippet; Dave's birthday was June 3rd.
I WENT TO THE SAME SCHOOL YOU DID.
Dave thought about the comprehensive he'd attended it was hardly top of the league table more like closer to the bottom, it certainly didn't produce high achievers or encourage ambition.
DID YOU KNOW ME BACK THEN he asked his hands shaking with emotion?
I NEVER FORGET A FACE Abi replied supplying no details.
SO YOU DID KNOW ME David typed astonished he had a link to this girl going back so far? He was older than Abi he felt sure by at least two maybe three years so she would have been one of the little kids; not part of his circle not someone he would have dated.
I KNEW YOU the reply was blunt and without nostalgia.
DID WE EVER SPEAK he enquired casting his memory back to the girls he'd known at school to rushed kisses and fevered groping, to the secret longings and lusts of youth?
ONCE Abi responded.
WHAT HAPPENED Perry's memory hadn't supplied him with any cogent details?
SOMETHING BAD, she was playing with him again dangling a morsel in front of his face.
I HURT YOU he asked?
YOU CHANGED ME, EVOLVED ME.
Was Abi claiming that her current persona, her current lifestyle choices were all down to one childhood meeting with him?
I BET YOU DON'T.
SO HOW DID I CHANGE YOU?
He thought of girls spoken to, kissed, hugged and the times when he'd gone a bit further when they'd asked him to. Sex had been a part of his youth like it was with most teens, you were growing up so you experimented you wanted to fuck girls and they wanted it to.
YOU KNOW Abi responded.
NO I DON'T NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE.
I WAS WEAK THEN AND CLINGY, HOW TIMES CHANGE.
Not a regular girlfriend then he could remember all of those – Suzie, Ami, Patricia they came and they went which was normal when you were 14, 15 and older. But none had been tall and Abi was very tall she would have been as a kid, and tall kids stood up they stuck in the memory.
THIS IS MORE GAME PLAYING ISN'T IT ABI?
HA HA CLEVER DAVID PERRY ALWAYS TOOK THEIR CHERRY.
Now that resonated he remembered that rhyme, he had a bit of a reputation as a boy, in fact he was more confident and successful back then before the drink took over.
A cough made him jump and there was Jane studying him again she wore a Star Wars jacket with X-wing fighters going down both sleeves.
"You never give up do you Dave; Abi wouldn't be stupid enough to get herself photographed."
"It was a long shot but you never know, how can anyone stay off the grid so totally in this day and age?"
Jane shrugged, "I do," she admitted.
"Yes but you're not like Abi; a huntress."
The eyes boggled, "A huntress, oh god don't romanticize her like that."
"A predator then a praying mantis," turning the PC off he stood up to stretch his neck, "What time is it?"
"Just after three, had any sleep?"
He'd snatched a bit not much Jane said she'd make them both a milky drink, old man's milk she called it something malty and pre-war.
"I'm not that ancient," he objected.
"I know but sometimes you act so middle-aged it's hard to tell; ovaltine okay?"
Following her into the kitchenette he said, "I'm not going to attack her if that's what's still bothering you, no violence I swear."
Good said her look because I don't to be a part of that, "So what will you do?"
"Confront Ian Barr with the facts and let him decide, he's a smart guy he'll soon work it out, after that I was to 'out' Abi online, publicize what she does make her known a celebrity. Once that happens she'll have nowhere to hide she won't be able to pull off these scams."
"Name and shame," Jane nodded, "I like it."
It had occurred to him that secrecy was Abi's chief asset; she hid behind a veil a mask once that was gone and her methods exposed she would lose her effectiveness. There was no such thing as a famous spy and that's what Abi was an industrial spy, a spook.
"I have to stop her or at least curtail what she's doing so she can't do it to anyone else, I owe my colleagues that much."
"Very noble," Jane spooned powder into mugs, "Dave Perry crusader, defender of the faith."
"You think I'm being naïve."
"I didn't say that."
"But you don't share my goal?"
She shrugged, "The bitch has to be stopped I get that but I'm not sure it'll be that easy, she's smart Dave a smart cookie whose been doing this a long time with no slip ups."
One slip up he thought, me, "It ends today," he said.
"If you say so."
"I do say so and I mean it, I can't let Abi keep getting away with this."
"Okay enough," fingers were splayed, "Can we not talk about this bitch anymore?"
"Sorry," he knew he'd become fixated, "I know I'm a broken record and I'm lucky you've stuck with me for so long."
"You're paying remember," she pointed out.
"I wanted the best hacker in the game and that's you Jane."
"I'm touched," she mocked.
"Let me ask you something; what will you do when this Abi thing is over?"
It was a curve ball he could tell by the way her brow pinched and lips puckered, "Meaning?"
"Well will you go back to that little flat and all the science fiction posters, hacking money out of banks to live off the grid? Don't you want more from life like a job, a relationship or even a house?"
Features tightening she turned from the pan of milk to prod his chest hard, "Now look here Perry don't judge me okay don't look down on my lifestyle choices just because they're unconventional and I'm not married with 2.4 obligations. I like my flat and my posters and screwing the bloody banks; someone has to they deserve it."
He held up his hands she was right and he was being boring, what did he know about this woman anyway and who was to say her choices were worse than his or anyone else's?
"Sorry Jane I guess you're right and I have become conventional in my thinking, ten years of being corporate will do that."
"Why don't you change your life then bust out and try something new," she snapped, "I mean look how they repaid your decade of obedience, they didn't hesitate to kick you out on your arse."
That was true he'd hardly received a fair hearing from his bosses, they'd delighted in stringing him out to dry.
"You could have a point," uncomfortable with this idea he turned away wondering what his future actually held. Even if he exposed Abi would he get his old job back, would they welcome him with open arms or would he remain a pariah, the man who fell off his perch?
Did he want to go back anyway and play at being a copywriter; was there something else he could do more fulfilling and more rewarding? His job had paid well but was money the only thing he wanted; was he going to make his mark doing advertising copy about cars, bog roll and guttering?
Abi had blown him out of a cosy rut and in doing so maybe she'd done him a favour albeit in a roundabout way; this was his wake up call his chance to adapt and evolve into somebody else.
"Ad agencies are soulless, profit hungry dinosaurs," Jane spat pouring milk onto the powder, "No better than banks, multi-nats or any of the other Masonic temples devoted to manna."
Back on her soap box she handed him his drink, "You can do better Dave we all can, the human race should get off its knees."
"Thanks for the sermon is it obligatory with a milky drink or an added bonus for insomniacs?"
"Okay don't listen," voice softer she sipped her own drink, "Stay a wage-slave."
No he thought I'm not going to do that, whatever happens a new Dave Perry will emerge from this experience stronger and maybe wiser.
Barr was late not by much but he should have been at 27b by now so where was he? A ball of nerves Dave paced up and down the corridor, maybe Barr had cancelled or Abi had and this could all be a wild goose chase in which case it was back to square one.
Popping her head out Jane waved him over to their door, "He's just emailed her apologising, he'll be thirty minutes late."
The sigh that escaped Dave was fully equal to the frustration he felt, "So why isn't she here?"
Jane's expression was perplexed, "Gives you more time to prepare."
Not needing more time in fact dreading the delay he bit his lip, "I don't care if Ian turns up or not but I want Abi here."
"You're sure she isn't already in 27b that she didn't book in last night?"
"No I'm not but there's no sound from the room; we could break in I suppose."
"Want to take that risk so close to the main event," she enquired, "I'm up for it but a bit of B&E might compromise your integrity Dave; I mean you're the good guy in all this."
Fair point he didn't want the hotel prosecuting him, the police would never take him seriously then, "Okay we'll wait for Barr to arrive Abi will most likely be with him."
"What do you want me to do," Jane shrugged, "Am I a passive spectator, do I put her in an armlock?"
"You back me up two voices are better than one."
"How open-minded is this guy Barr do you think, what if he dismisses us as nutters?"
"We have proof, printouts, Abi's messages, the death of Gooch and Gooch's widow he won't find all that easy to dismiss."
Footsteps made them both dodge out of sight a maid had appeared at the far end of the corridor wheeling a trolley on which were clean linen and some cleaning sprays, moving perfunctorily the maid sauntered up the corridor playing with her ears and acting bored, probably some Pole on minimum wage.
"Why are we hiding," Jane whispered?
"We're not supposed to be on this floor are we?"
"She won't know that."
No probably not but he didn't want to be compromised in any way, "Best to keep out of sight until we're ready to make our move."
"Okay but I wish that girl would hurry up, what is she doing?"
"Clean linen," he replied, "Or maybe she's skiving."
"Why isn't she going into any of the rooms though, she just seems to be loitering like she's waiting for something or someone?"
Dave squinted at the maid trying to see if she was familiar in anyway and she was sort of, "Stay here Jane," emerging he made his way over to the girl determined now to confront her, could she be Abi?
He said, "Excuse me," and the girl glanced up in surprise. Different hair, different make up and of course the uniform but it wasn't Abi…it was Rhonda McAndrew the not so merry widow.
"Rhonda what the hell," he barely had time to recover his wits when she picked up a spray bottle and blinded him, he was holding his eyes turning away and swearing, how much had gone in had it done any permanent damage? No it wasn't a chemical detergent it was just water.
Jane shouted something and ran over asking if he was okay, then Rhonda said something low and threatening.
"Jesus," Dave complained his hair and shirt were soaked.
"She's got a gun," said Jane.
"What," Dave was sure he'd misheard then his vision cleared and he saw the gun a small pistol aimed right at him, silver with a white handle, "Rhonda," he gaped?
"Open up 27b," Rhonda tossed Jane the plastic door card, "its 44734," she snapped, "Do it," the gun jabbed.
"Go ahead," David advised grabbing a towel to wipe himself on, "What's going on Rhonda?"
"Get in," he was told harshly and following Jane he entered 27b to find its lights on, curtains drawn and main armchair occupied by a cool blond with long bare legs that looked recently waxed.
Sipping claret from a tall stemmed glass she was texting with her free hand her thumb speeding across keys, there was no doubt who she was the girl from the hotel bar who'd seduced him and stolen his campaign. David felt a lurch of shock, disgust and fear in the centre of his chest; he'd never actually expected to see her again.
"Hello Abi," he said darkly.
The thumb came to a halt over the 'send' key, "David how nice to see you again," the key was poked then Abi put her smart phone aside, "I've just cancelled Ian so we won't be disturbed, I see you've met my friend Rhonda; didn't think I had a sidekick did you?"
No he hadn't and that had been his big mistake, he'd assumed Abi worked solo and that oversight had cost him dearly.
"Let Jane go," he pleaded thinking that at least he could salvage something from this mess.
"Jane's going nowhere," said a spiky voice by his side as moving forwards the computer hacker glared at Abi, "Hello bitch," she said, "You're lucky that gun's pointed at me or I'd smash your smug face in."
Looking more amused than alarmed Abi favoured this threat with a deprecating smile, "I'm an expert in self-defence not some IT nerd with short-sight, I don't think you'd seriously trouble me even without the gun however," the eyes flicked to Perry, "The gun stays. This is endgame Dave the final round I've decided to cut you loose, your pursuit of me has been amusing even mildly diverting but it's over, it ends here."
He said, "Did you know me at school or was that all bullshit?"
The question was considered, "I knew you all right, you were hard to miss back then."
"Are you saying we went out together?"
"No I'm not saying that," the tone was colder.
"So in what way did I change you because I can't remember a tall girl that I kissed?"
Abi said, "No kissing was involved Dave."
"Then I don't get it."
"Maths hut, blue door, a white board with equations on it; I was thirteen but I wasn't called Abi back then."
The maths hut Mr Dakin's class, old dodgy Dakin with his bald head and round shoulders, his smell of cheese and his squeaky shoes. It came back to him in a flash, a girl with wine coloured hair and lips to match, short skirt, navy tights she'd transferred in from another school.
"Annalisa," he said, "Annalisa Curry," he recalled a flirty kid with a foul mouth, "That was you?"
Head inkling Abi swirled her drink, "Got it at last."
"But nothing happened, nothing serious."
Glass and gaze froze as Abi became reptile-still, "Nothing serious," she said in a low, dangerous voice, "You reckon?"
Cheeks enflamed Perry could hardly meet her gaze or Jane's for that matter, "We were kids," he said.
"I was a kid Dave," the whip crack made him jump, "You weren't you were fifteen."
"For god sake you led me on you wanted it, you even said so."
Lasering into him Abi's eyes had a shine of pure malevolence, "Bastard," she spat into her drink, "You bastard."
Jane's interruption was almost a relief, "You raped her?"
No he hadn't it wasn't rape, he'd never raped any girl she'd wanted it, egging him on with her cute little squirm her rolling hips, her longing looks, it was an empty class nobody along for fifteen minutes was he a man or a wimp?
"It was sex not rape just a quickie."
This didn't placate Jane, "They all say that."
"You have to believe me."
"Do I Dave," he recalled the rape hotline number on her flat wall, did Jane volunteer?
"I didn't rape Annalisa I'm not like that."
But her disgust rebuffed him, was he losing her respect her support when he needed it the most?
"It's another lie Jane, Abi researches her victims; divide and conquer she's playing us."
Not sure now Jane studied her nails, while she did this Perry confronted Abi, "You're not Annalisa Curry."
"Am I not Dave how can you be so sure, how would I know so much detail?"
"Because you dig, you pry, you search internet sites; maybe you even found the real Annalisa on some reunion site and befriended her, twisting her memories and words to suit your own agenda."
The head shook slowly but he was sure he was right, she was trying to drive a wedge between him and Jane; playing them even at this late stage.
"Describe our maths teacher, the English teacher, the form teachers," he demanded, "You can't can you Abi because you were never there, this is all just more lies and deception."
Rhonda cleared her throat like she was getting bored and Abi nodded; it was time to move on.
Throat dry and chest tight Perry looked at Rhonda, her weapon was aimed at his heart and at point blank range she wouldn't miss.
"You're going to shoot us," he croaked not wanting to die not even wanting to be hurt?
"Rhonda's going to shoot you," said Abi, "I don't soil my hands with violence."
Jane said, "What about Tony Gooch, you soiled your hands over him he killed himself because of what you did?"
Choosing to stay calm Abi took another sip of claret, "My detailed analysis of Tony didn't factor in his self-destructive tendencies, an unfortunate oversight but no more; Rhonda's better off without him anyway aren't you dear, now you've got all of the money and none of the hassle."
"Why do you do it," David had to know, "Yes okay you make a lot of money but there's more to it isn't there?"
Smile appreciative she favoured him with a seductive expression, "Very well I admit I get a buzz out of it a rush, I enjoy the game, the moves; its fun, exciting and I get to outwit men who think they're very clever, although not as clever as me obviously."
"There has to be more," Perry cut in, "I mean there are safer ways of earning money."
"She's a psycho," said Jane, "She has a screw loose, maybe she hates men is that it Abi; prefer Rhonda do we?"
David said, "It all feels like payback to me, revenge for some perceived wrong; is that it Abi are you getting even by destroying these guys, wrecking their careers as…as maybe yours was?"
"Good psychoanalysis Dave, very commendable but I'd stick to selling loo paper if I were you; working me out is beyond your limited abilities."
He was stung, "I found you didn't I, hunted you down?"
"No Dave I found you, this was my game from the start and I played you every step of the way; you were always going to end up like this in my clutches."
"Maybe," sneered Jane, "Your little firebomb in the motel didn't work did it?"
"Just an incentive my dear something to gee you up a bit and push you closer to endgame."
"What's the hurry Abi," David demanded, "Need to be somewhere else do you, keen to get your claws into Ian Barr your next target? It isn't going to work; you won't scam him like you scammed me."
"Won't I Dave and who's going to stop me; you and this silly little non-entity, your roles in my life are over."
"Think you're the only one who can text Ian," Perry interrupted and saw a frisson of surprise on the cool, gorgeous face, "You're not the only gamer here Abi I can play to, I sent him some information before your hotel maid pulled her automatic some information about Abi/Natalie/Carla/Diane."
Still and cold Abi flicked a look at Rhonda it was a question and an accusation that the widow answered with, "He's lying."
"No he isn't," Jane bragged.
"Search him," Abi hissed getting to her feet, "Give me the gun and find his mobile."
Surrendering the weapon Rhonda approached Dave pushing him face first towards a wall, "Hands up," she snarled, "Legs wide," She began to pat him down, "I can't find it."
"Keep looking," Abi sounded rattled her calm demeanour of before had cracked.
"He's lying playing for time," Rhonda's hand search became rough and frantic.
"No I'm not," sweating now David felt his leg muscles start to shake with fatigue.
Rhonda gave up, "No Phone."
"It's in my room," David told them both, "I wouldn't be stupid enough to bring it with me."
"A bluff," Rhonda spat, "He didn't send anything to Ian he didn't have time."
But Abi couldn't be sure and she needed to be, he read alarm and dismay in her eyes now a sense of events slipping out of control and control was important to this woman, she lived for it, desired it above all other things – to be the one calling all the shots.
"Ian knows all about you Abi, your little scheme won't work this time and soon everyone will know; the Abi story's going global it's going Google."
Still holding the gun and looking like she wanted to use it very badly the blond took a step back, "Don't play me Dave."
"I don't need to it's the truth, I set out to expose you and I'm going to."
Rhonda shook her head, "its bullshit Ab he hasn't done anything."
"Yes we have," Jane jumped in with both feet, "Dave hasn't got the skills but I have and you know I have."
Perry nodded, "Think of it Abi your face and exploits all over the web for everyone to see, you'll never scam anyone ever again with your little date rape drug."
"Shut up," all pretence of calm detachment was gone now as the blond turned to think about what she'd been told and its implications if true, "We need to check their IT," she decided, "If they have done anything we need to find out."
"You're not buying this surely," Rhonda was aghast.
"I'm good because I'm thorough," Abi spat back, "I cover all the angles, I control the game at every level. We're going to their room and taking them with us, come on let's go," the gun waved, "I'll keep this for now."
David had hoped there'd be someone in the corridor a witness of some sort maybe a real maid or waiter. In the movies there always was some big clumsy type with a trolley that the hero could shove into the bad guys' then dash off making a dramatic escape but not this time the corridor was as quiet as the grave.
It took no time to reach his room and once inside he indicated the lap tops, "Over there," he said.
Unimpressed Abi waved, "Open up I want to see what you've sent."
"Wouldn't it just be smarter to get running Abi," he offered, "You may need a head start."
The gun rose, "Don't try to flannel me Dave, show me this message you've sent across Google; if it exists."
"Oh it exists alright," Jane boasted.
"Fine let's see it," Abi was in no mood for grandstanding.
Going to a lap he peeled it open and hit the 'on' button, "Who knows maybe Ian has called the cops himself," he said, "They could be here already."
"Bollocks," Snapped Rhonda but Abi told her to keep a watch outside.
"Sit down where I can see you," Jane was told, "And don't move."
David logged in, "Where will you escape to Abi somewhere warmer perhaps; you must have plenty of money stashed away."
"Oh I have don't you worry Dave; people pay me well."
"Will Rhonda be going with you or has she outlasted her usefulness, I mean you don't really need her anymore?"
Jane smirked at this but there was no humour on Abi's face, "I don't think that's any of your business; hurry up Dave I'm losing patience."
He stood aside exposing a big social networking site called PRONET which was for media professionals at all levels; Abi saw her own face peering back at her actually there were several faces all with different hair and make up, a brunette Abi, a red headed Abi, Abi with glasses along with the headline "Have you seen this woman, she has many faces and identities such as Abi, Natalie, Carla and Diane?"
It was followed by a list of the men she'd scammed including faces, firms and approximate dates.
Perry had added his own photo along with Topline, McGill's and the name of the hotel where he'd met Abi along with the name zopliclone.
This woman seduced me and drugged me to steal the secrets of an advertising campaign I'd come up with and she's done it to others; don't let her do it to you!
"The full SP," Jane goaded, "and once they all come forward to confirm the details the cops will have the makings of a case against you Abi oh and you to Rho."
Perry nodded, "You were right it is endgame Abi, for you."
The blue eyes were sapphire cold and the grip on the gun tightened, Abi's features were luminous with hatred as she glared at him.
"I think it's time you came to a sticky end Dave," she purred.
"A bullet, bit crude isn't it and who's going to be the chief suspect?"
"The prints found on the gun won't belong to me but to…her," Abi looked down at Jane, "The misfit, hacker and fraudster whose bank account will be swollen with your money."
Rhonda hoisted Jane from the chair with ease being almost twice her size then she applied a painful armlock, moving over Abi took Jane's free right hand, opened it and placed the butt of the gun into the damp palm, then fixing her own two hands over Jane's one she aimed the gun at Perry.
"She kills you," Abi smiled, "Then in a fit of remorse kills herself, a fake suicide email will confirm this scenario."
"The cops aren't that stupid," said David wishing he felt as confident as he sounded.
Abi's shrug was indifferent, "It's a time buying strategy nothing more; goodbye Dave."
Shit what was he going to do now, what could he say to put off the inevitable; nothing came to mind he was all out of options?
None of them – least of all him - expected the room phone to ring but it did bursting to electronic life, the sound made Perry jump with shock and distracted both Abi and Rho long enough for Jane to back heel the bigger woman on the shin painfully forcing her to let go with a strangled oath. Twisting free Jane turned to shove Abi aside and make a run for it.
The gun, which had been dropped, landed on the carpet. It was too far away for David to chance going after it so he didn't bother, he had another option.
The crystal paper weight was shaped like a small island being round and chunky, solid but not too heavy for him to snatch up and throw.
It was a good throw to and in their confusion neither woman saw it coming or got out of the way.
Rhonda cried out as the missile collided with the side of her scalp making a dull but audible thud, then down she went stunned possibly concussed.
Abi went for the gun, it was much closer to her and she had a real turn of speed. Perry thought of fleeing the room but he didn't have either room or time; it only took Abi a second to regain her weapon which she then aimed at him with a look of feral triumph.
"Plan B it is," she gasped, "I just shoot you myself."
Horror closed around Perry's heart, "Your prints will be on the gun," he croaked as the room spun around him and his vision narrowed down to a single thing Abi's cruel face.
"Not if I wipe them off," she said, "Bye Dave."
Dave didn't want to die who does, like every sucker he believed his best song was still inside him that he had more to offer if not in advertising then something else.
"Wait," he pleaded, "Before you shoot me just tell me who you are, I think you owe me that much; after all it'll die with me so where's the harm?"
Abi didn't shoot him and she seemed to be considering his request, a last request from a condemned man.
"No," a flat refusal.
"Why not," he felt cheated, "At least let me know what all this has been about. You destroyed my career my whole life, ten years of hard graft down the drain but why?"
"I don't owe you any explanation Dave; you were just a mark a patsy, a set up one of many."
He got that it made sense; Abi was going through victims like a surgeon does with patients.
"Is that it you're just in it for the cash it's just a deal; I'm disappointed."
She registered surprise, "Disappointed?"
"Sure I mean it's so shallow and tacky, you might as well be a sales pro scamming some poor punter into buying something he doesn't need, I felt sure there was more to you Abi."
"Like I exist to impress you," she shot back, "I don't care what you think, what any of them think not even Ian Barr."
"I see he's just another sucker is he just like me?"
"Exactly," the gun edged forwards to indicate a cut off point.
That was when a mobile phone bleeped making Abi look back at Jane stood in the doorway holding up her right hand, "Get all that Ian," said the hacker, "I sure did," the smile was infuriating, "This baby records."
Spinning around like a viper Abi took aim at the face beyond the phone, and in doing so ignored Perry. This was his chance maybe his only opportunity so he wasn't going to waste it.
Selecting something boxy and heavy he picked it up crept over to Abi and…didn't hesitate.
The heavy Scanner, a Matsui, connected with the back of Abi's skull with a crunching, popping sound and eyes rolling Abi buckled, fell and squeezed the trigger.
No crack just a soft pop and a small dark hole appeared near the ceiling as Abi slumped then let go of the weapon with nerveless fingers.
"You took your bloody time," said Jane, reaching down to pull free the blond wig exposing light brown curls, "As I thought as fake as everything else about this bitch."
Flopping into a chair Perry let out the most almighty sigh of relief.
"No need to thank me," he said getting a shrug in return.
"I couldn't just leave you to die Dave you haven't paid me my bonus yet."
David drove the van putting as much distance between them at the Premier Inn a she could.
Placing the gun in Rhonda's hand he'd called the police anonymously, so that was one problem solved.
This just left Abi, who was in the back of the van wrists tied with gaffer tape and mouth also taped over.
Jane had rented the van with a cloned credit card, billing it to Ian Barr something he was going to really love.
Knowing he had stepped well outside the law now David felt a curious rush of freedom, was this the buzz people like Abi felt the blaze of liberation that meant you were off-the-grid, untouchable and free to do as you chose.
Next stop an apartment overlooking the Manchester Ship Canal, the only clue he'd been able to find on Abi a tenancy agreement in the name of Abi as well which was handy.
"She's awake," Jane's words jolted him out of his reverie, a look in the mirror confirmed that Abi was indeed awake and glaring at him.
"So she is," he remarked, "Welcome back Abi," he called in a louder voice, "We're on our way to your gaff in Manchester, I do hope this is the last leg of the journey, I don't fancy schlepping all over the UK in pursuit of your identity."
There was no mumbled reply, no attempt to wrench free of the gaffer tape; Abi conserved her energy.
"Of course," said Perry, "You could always save us the bother by making a full and frank confession right now."
Abi's glare made it clear how likely this was so he went on, "Your friend Rhonda should be in custody by now, no doubt blackening our names but the smoking gun will be harder to explain away especially as it also has your prints on it, I decided not to wipe them away in case you have a criminal record under another name."
Closing her eyes Abi seemed to slump upon hearing that, had he touched a raw nerve, did she have a record somewhere on the PNC?
"We should have left her for the cops," Jane said testily and Perry had been tempted but if he did that he'd lose control of the game; something he was loathe to do at this late stage he wanted to know
Who Abi really was
How much money she'd made
If she was in league with anyone else?
"Later perhaps," he said, "For now I want to see what this place in Manchester yields."
"Probably nothing," Jane was glum, "It'll be wiped clean just like all the others."
In that case they would keep looking, now that Abi physically with them they could apply some pressure – deny her food for example, keep her tied up maybe even hurt her. David wasn't looking forward to that he wasn't a natural thug but he was fighting for his survival and if Abi had taught him one thing it this the only rule is win at all cost.
The motorway was useful for speed but as soon as they were on the outskirts of Manchester he came off it and stuck to back roads, eventually pulling up in a lay-by on some narrow country track bordered by weed infested fields and derelict buildings.
Engine off he got out, went around to the back and opened this up, then he removed Abi's gag as gently a she could to offer her some mineral water.
"Avian fizzy," he said as she gulped at the bottle neck greedily, sucking the water into a parched throat.
"That's enough," easing the bottle back and wiped it and took a swig himself, "Don't want you filling your bladder do we."
"This isn't going to work," the words were hoarse and gasped but clear enough.
"Why won't it work," he demanded inwardly wondering the same thing himself, a worm of doubt curling through his guts?
"There's nothing to find in Manchester," Abi gestured for more water.
"Then where should we be looking?"
"I'm thirsty Dave."
"I'm unemployable," he responded meaning thanks to you and saw a smile form on her dry lips.
"You're going to jail Dave you do know that don't you, you'll be arrested and charged for criminal abduction."
"And what charges will you face," Jane butted in, "Impersonation, fraud, hacking, an illegal firearm, using a date rape drug."
Blinking Abi ignored the accusations like the legal system didn't apply to her, "She's a liability Dave this should be just you and me."
"It's thanks to Jane that I even found you, I think she and I make a pretty good team."
He offered the bottle and Abi drank eagerly, swallowing hard he let her almost empty the bottle before taking it away, "When did you team up with Rhonda," he asked, "Was it the Tony Gooch scam?"
"Long before that," she sounded stronger now less dry, "We modelled together as kids even had the same agent, we met a lot of guys like Tony."
"Sexist, arrogant wankers with too much money."
Jane snorted, "She still married him, maybe like you she was in love with money herself; you're in no position to judge other people Abi you're the biggest mercenary there is."
Looking into the deep blue eyes David tried to read the mind behind them, was it afraid just a little bit unsure of itself; its owner had after all lost control of the situation?
"The game's changed Abi you're no longer calling the shots I am."
"You think so."
"Well let's see you're tied up and helpless in the back of my van."
"I'm never helpless Dave that's one thing you need to know about me, I don't do the victim-thing."
Always the mind games he had to admire her she never gave up even when all was lost.
"Oh just hit the bitch," Jane called.
"He won't do that will you Dave; too civilised."
"Is that in my file to, David Perry basically a nice guy he doesn't hit women?"
The smile was back the old Abi in the hotel bar smile, god she was sexy even tied up with her hair a mess and clothing a bit shabby.
"I know you better than you know yourself," she said and it was probably true.
"By the time this is over Abi I'm going to know you pretty well."
"Careful Dave a little knowledge can be dangerous."
"The gag's going back on; want another drink because we're not stopping now until we reach Canal View Penthouse Suite?"
She indicated for water so he let her drain the bottle, which she managed to make look quite erotic.
Jane said, "If there's any zopliclone in this place we'll use it on you blondie."
Not a bad idea David was thinking and poetic justice in a way, "I may be soft but Jane isn't and I think she'd enjoy making you squirm."
Now he saw it a degree of alarm a slight chink in the armour, just the merest hint of fear. So Abi could be frightened after all; that was good to know it meant he had an extra card to play that Jane was his ace in the pack.
Back behind the wheel he gunned the engine; they would need some petrol shortly as the penthouse was on the other side of town.
"Have you found it," he asked Jane who sat hunched over a laptop.
"No it's proving a bit tricky, ex directory usually is."
Perry's plan was to ring on ahead to see if the penthouse was deserted or if Abi had an associate waiting, someone else with a gun?
"Well we're almost there," turning onto a private inner road he saw the new development up ahead, the vast and impressive canal side apartment blocks with their gorgeous balconies, pathways, high gates, cameras and private car compound. The whole thing sang exclusive, elite, successful people only.
"How much did this knock you back Abi, or rather the sucker who paid for it," said David into the back of the van, "You certainly have expensive tastes I'll give you that."
"Got it," said Jane triumphantly letting him see the telephone number. He rang it and listened, there was a dial tone.
"We're through, nobody answering;" he waited, "Going to voicemail, mind you that doesn't mean the place is empty," he chose not to leave a message, "Access code next."
Jane already had it as they pulled up just shy of the camera catchment area, "Want me with you?"
He did to be honest but they had to play it safe, "Keep an eye on her highness, I'll leave my phone on so we can talk."
Jane looked miffed, "I'd be more use with you."
"I know but I'm loathe to leave Abi to her own devises."
"Dave she's tied up, I put the tape on myself."
Suddenly anxious he made a humour-me gesture, they had to be careful this felt like the final rung on the ladder to him and therefore the most dangerous. The penthouse had the feel of a headquarters, a base of operations, he felt sure that if there were any answers they'd be here.
"I'll keep in touch and if there are any problems I'll call you I promise."
With one last look back at Abi (she glared back) he set off.
8 digits opened the outer main door, 8 different digits got him into the lift, then a special pass word was required, after that he was outside the penthouse door itself.
"Okay almost there, are you sure about her apartment code?"
Jane's voice was tinny down the phone but there was no mistaking the impatience, "Give me some credit, anyone around?"
He inputted 13 digits, "Not a soul; all out earning those big city bonuses."
"Wankers," Jane judged.
Yes maybe he thought but I used to be one of them, "I'm in," he heard an alarm system purr and click, going to it he typed in 5 more digits and an amber light softened to gold the word 'welcome' flashing up.
"Good work Jane," he said looking up the long hallway which wouldn't have been out of place in the Hilton hotel, "My god this place is huge it feels more like a mansion," he went to a door, spare bedroom, another door and found a walk-in shower plus loo, the third door led to a study with lots of drawers and cupboards to rifle.
"I think I've found an office so I'll have a nosy around, give Abi another drink we don't want her passing out."
Jane said, "I wouldn't mind."
"We may need her conscious," he went to the main desk it would be locked of course but he had taken some keys off Abi earlier it was now time to see if they were the right ones.
No, no, another no but then he was in finding a neat stash of manila files within were a raft of bank statements all from different banks some UK based others off shore; the numbers made his eyes water. Good god Abi wasn't just well off she was rich, seriously rich, he was looking at six figure amounts paid in on a regular basis going back a decade.
"Everything okay Jane," he asked?
"Yeah I'm in the back of the van, just taking off her gag," he heard a sharp ripping sound and a cry from Abi followed by a curse; Jane hadn't been as careful as him obviously.
"Oh sorry did that hurt," Jane remarked, "Here wet your whistle," she snickered, "Find anything?"
"Her bank accounts, I think she's with every bank in creation, the smallest account is £50,000."
Jane whistled, "Hang onto the statements, they'll make useful evidence; anything else?"
Another drawer yielded passports, a dozen of them all in different names. Abi peered out from them all but in one she was blond in another had dark curls, a third purple streaks, a fourth big glasses and so on.
"Passports," David said, "She's a well travelled girl but then she'd need to be with cash in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and Jersey."
Jane didn't comment so he began to bag the small booklets glad he wore plastic gloves, "Jane," he said, "Jane are you there?"
Something cold, hard and round touched the nape of his neck and he smelled after shave the expensive stuff.
"Don't move Perry not a muscle," said a posh voice he felt he knew, "You've been a very silly boy haven't you," said the voice, "Drop the passports," he did so, "Now very slowly sit back on your hands, both hands."
As soon a she had the object left his neck and the man walked around in front of him smiling, Perry blinked in total astonishment.
"It's a trap," the words froze Jane on the spot coming as they did from Abi's mouth she didn't trust them at first but there was a confidence in those baby blue eyes that spooked her, Abi was to calm, too in control positively smug, "Dave is our prisoner."
The word 'our' was a nasty jolt to, "Rhonda's in custody," she said but suddenly knew Abi meant someone else, someone hiding in the penthouse waiting another cohort possibly more dangerous.
"Untie me Jane it's over," Abi hissed.
"Dave," Jane cried into her phone, "Talk to me Perry what's going on?"
The voice that replied was posh, well educated, smarmy and not David, "He's sat on the floor in front of me; I have an automatic pistol pointing right between his eyes."
Stomach knotting Jane didn't know what to say she was for once struck dumb.
Abi wasn't, "Untie me," she snarled, "Right now."
"Do it," the posh guy insisted, "Then I want both of you up here with me," he chuckled, "Or I shoot Dave in the leg or the arm."
Not moving Jane tried to get her brain to work but it wouldn't she was paralysed with fear, how could things have turned so disastrously wrong so quickly? No wonder Abi hadn't panicked or begged for her life, she'd had another card to play.
"Do it," Abi said softly.
"No," Jane gulped the word.
"No," Abi's eyes widened?
"I've got you and you're the only insurance we have," once free Abi could do what she liked with the pair of them.
"Perry's about to be shot."
"No he isn't," Jane raised the phone, "Hurt Dave and I hurt the bitch I mean it," she yelled.
"She's bluffing," Abi derided.
"No I'm bloody well not," Jane let Abi see the knife, a meat knife stolen from Premier Inn.
"She's got a blade," Abi said into the phone her voice now tight and brittle.
The man at the other end of the phone didn't respond.
Tristan, bloody Tristan, David couldn't believe it he'd never seen this coming. Tristan was a creative director at Topline, his boss, a man he'd looked upto and admired for years. Posh, public school, exclusive, untouchable and yet here he was with a gun in his hands working with a snake like Abi. That made him a snake, it made him her inside boy at the agency.
"Tell your geeky friend to cut Abi loose and bring her up here, no tricks," Tristan's top lip was damp and Perry had never seen that before, never seen a crack in the icy reserve.
"I'm not that stupid and neither is she," he answered, "Once Abi's free its game over you can shoot me and then shoot her later."
"I could shoot you anyway Dave; in fact my desire to do so is growing."
"Only you won't," Perry returned, "Abi's the boss and you won't do anything to put her life at risk will you, she owns you, she bought you."
"Shut up," cool Tristan looked flustered despite the gun, "Order Jane to dump the knife."
"Only if you dump the gun," David smiled, "You won't though will you Tristan."
Lifting the phone to his lips the ex CD said, "Abi are you all right?"
The reply was waspish, "Of course I'm not bloody all right I've got a knife pointing at my jugular vein; deal with this Tristan."
"How, if I shoot Perry the geek will cut you is that what you want?"
Jane's voice was mocking, "Bring Perry down here to the van I want to see him, I'm willing to consider a swap him for Abi."
"No chance," said Tristan but Abi cut in.
"Do it, bring Dave down here so we can resolve this."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm not sitting in this dirty van all night Tristan; it's a stand-off."
Walking across the room as he processed this Tristan tapped fingers against his upper leg, "Once outside in broad daylight I won't be able to use the gun."
Abi's reply was inaudible but it pinked his cheeks and narrowed his eyes with an oath he turned back to David, "Get up."
Hands going numb Perry was glad to do so, "What did she offer you Tris, how much where you worth? You accused me of being a traitor but it was you all along; Callum will be thrilled."
"Move," the gun waved, "Be very careful what you do and say Dave because I'd quite enjoy putting a bullet in you if only to shut your mouth."
"She's using you can't you see that, she uses everyone; you're just a puppet."
Moving dangerously close Tristan jabbed the gun into a kidney, "Not another word I mean it," he was trembling now, the moisture on his lip now visible on cheeks and forehead as he was pushed to the very edge, it wouldn't take much more to drive him over it.
"Think Tris what use are you to Abi now I know who you are, what reason does she have to keep you around? She's totally cold-blooded, a mercenary and a lot tougher than you. This is all her idea isn't it, not yours, she set it up; who's to say she hasn't got another lieutenant stashed away somewhere your replacement?"
"She loves me, do you hear that, she loves me and I love her this isn't just about cash."
Perry almost laughed did Tristan really believe what he'd said did he honestly believe that Abi was capable of love?
"Get real," he sighed, "With Abi everything's about the cash, people are incidental just collateral damage."
"You know nothing David nothing at all," the gun jabbed harder, "We're going to start a whole new life together free of little minds like you and arrogant pricks like Callum."
"Is that what you think, I doubt Abi sees things like that."
They were in the lift now and heading down, down to what though?
"Cut me loose," Abi liked giving orders she was good at it, playing the high and mighty but Jane wasn't impressed.
"Shut up," the knife tickled a perfect chin, "You and your boyfriend aren't making a fool out of me, what did you promise him, a life of unending luxury shagging you? Fat chance he's on the scrapheap after this just like Rhonda."
The cool attractive features formed just the ghost of a smile but enough for Jane to work out she was on the right track.
"Cut me free Jane," the tone was smoother, quieter, "There's a lot of money in my accounts some of it could be yours – one, two even three million, think what you could do with it, think how and where you live and how much better things could be. In this life you have to look after number one because nobody else will, I learned that a long time ago. Nobody cares about us or whether we live or die."
"Is that how you justify being such a total bitch Abi," Jane lowered her knife, "You screw other people before they screw you?"
"Wake up Jane that's how life is so why not make yourself comfortable if you can? I mean what's your plan to follow Perry around like a lap dog, he's a loser he's finished, no job, no future and soon his money will run out."
There was no way to deny the truth of this assessment much as she wanted to, Dave faced a bleak future that probably involved some jail time and even if it didn't he had no career and no way back into his old life.
"Dave's got you though hasn't he Abi he's beaten you, so he can't be a total loser otherwise what does that make you?"
"Beaten me, you think so, here he comes now with a gun in his back."
It was true two figures had emerged onto the road, Perry was in the lead with a slender curly haired man behind him, Jane couldn't see the gun but knew it had to be there because something was prodding Dave along jabbing into his spine.
Mr Curls said, "Cut Abi free, I want he rout of the van."
Locking eyes with Perry Jane asked him a silent question and he gave a silent answer, reaching down she cut through the gaffer tape and Abi gasped with pain as blood rushed back into her hands.
"Help me up," she said, ignoring this Jane jumped out of the van she didn't take orders from this bitch.
"Come on move it," she said waving the knife.
"My legs have gone to sleep I'm stiff," Abi bleated.
"So move around a bit I'm not your fucking slave."
Irritated Abi flexed her arms and legs; she didn't seem all that stiff and was soon stepping out onto the road. She made to approach her lover but Jane shoved her back, "Not yet," the knife rose, "How do we do this," Jane asked?
Tristan said, "I get Abi and you get this guy, let Abi walk towards me."
Not born yesterday Jane shook her head, "Your gun has more range than my knife, take out the magazine."
"You must be joking," Tristan derided but Abi cut in.
"Do it," her tone coldly commanding and like the obedient servant he was Tristan thumbed a catch removing a black tube from the handle of his weapon.
"Move out into clear view," said Jane, "I need to see your hands at all times."
Distancing himself from his prisoner Tristan stepped sideways holding his hands up; gun in one and bullets in the other.
"Okay," said Jane, "Abi and Dave walk at the same time and at the same speed, no talking and no tricks."
After a pause Abi began to stride forwards, Perry did likewise wondering when the double cross would come, what form it would take and what signal Abi would employ because he didn't trust her. She was too ruthless and had too much to lose, he and Jane were a couple of loose ends and Abi never left those dangling for long. She has to kill us he thought, no other option makes any sense.
Abi increased her pace, so did he and soon they up to each other their eyes locked, a smirk on her lips that was undeniably one of triumph and connivance, loser it said you're a loser and I'm going to nail you.
In that instant Perry knew his life had never been in greater danger, and as Abi made to pass him he grabbed her.
With a click magazine went back into gun butt and Tristan once more had a viable weapon, he raised it and fired.
The bullet would have taken Jane in the heart if she'd stood still but she didn't, expecting a trick she threw herself sideways as Dave grabbed Abi.
At once Abi tried to knee him in the groin, but twisting skilfully out of the way he took the blow on a hip, then she tried to bite him using her teeth to attack his cheek and ear. Head rearing back he pulled her off balance and in a half circle so she was between him and the gun a human shield.
Swearing Tristan tried to re-aim but Abi was in the way so he focused back on the girl, Jane was in clear view.
Abi head butted Perry on the nose and with an explosion of pain he let her go blinded by tears, heat rushing into his nose and out of it.
The gun fired again but David couldn't see anything.
"No," said somebody, "Jesus," the voice added, "Oh fucking hell no," then feet dashed passed him.
Palming blood from his face David blinked several times aware he was totally helpless then another voice it belonged to Jane, "You okay," she handed him something to wipe his face a cloth or sheet?
"No not really," he wiped his eyes until he could see her, "She nutted me," he felt such a fool, "Where is she?"
Jane pointed, "Over there."
All he could see was Tristan knelt on the gravel cuddling something, hugging it to him a form David didn't recognise for several seconds and even then his brain couldn't process the information or believe it.
Bleeding profusely David sat down on the ground himself but Tristan didn't shoot him, the gun had been thrown aside and lay in a small gully. Quickly Jane went to retrieve it using another rag so as not to add her DNA to the stock.
Where was Abi where had she gone, was she inside the penthouse salvaging her records and passports?
"The filth are coming," said Jane and he could hear them now the sirens, "Want to try running?"
He didn't and anyway there was nowhere to run to, "Abi," he asked?
"She's on the deck loverboy shot her," Jane finally penetrated the funk that had cocooned his sore brain.
Abi had been shot?
"How is she," he asked Tristan who was sobbing like a baby?
"Dunno, doesn't look good to me."
The first of the official vehicles was a cop car followed by an ambulance then a crime scene van; very soon they were cluttering the narrow stretch of road.
A medic came over to examine his face, the others went to Abi with various items of equipment, uniformed cops ringed the area and in the midst of them were plain clothed suits who very soon would be reading him his rights.
There would be lots of questions, some of which he wouldn't be able to answer.
"We can't move her yet," said one of the medics near Abi who was clearly still alive, "doctor," a female figure dashed over to join them in a different colour uniform with DOCTOR printed on the back.
"Not broken," Perry was told as his nasal passages were examined.
He saw Jane hand the gun over to the cops who bagged it, Jane made a point of telling them who'd used the gun, there was no sign of her knife anywhere and she didn't refer to it.
It was a small grey cube familiar to all fans of TV cop dramas as an interview room, but the one thing TV couldn't convey was the smell; that rank mix of bodily odours, sewage, detergent and stale clothing mixed with fag ash and weak tea.
Not a fan of TV cops David felt like a fish out of water as a senior officer entered with a dyspeptic expression on his hang dog features.
"Hello Mr Perry I'm DCI Chas Wheeler," Wheeler grimaced as he sat down as though he had some injury, he looked too young for arthritis but who could tell. Slightly overweight with freckled jowls he had salt and pepper hair long at the sides and back but a trifle thin on top. David would have put his age at mid 40s but had always been rubbish at guessing ages.
"I've read your detailed statement with interest," Wheeler had a faint Tyneside burr, "You've been a busy lad that's for sure chasing after this woman you call Abi but whom we know of as Portia Wisbech, wanted for fraud and embezzlement amongst other things. Since she is currently in a coma we can't get her side of things but we do have the statements of Tristan Woodward and Jane Costello; both of whom contradict your version of events."
David blinked in surprise; Tristan would lie of course to protect his own worthless neck but Jane?
"I don't understand Jane worked with me on this hacking databases, overcoming security systems and producing fake ID."
Wheeler raised his eyes from a sheaf of papers, "She says you did all these things that you're something of an expert."
"Rubbish," David was incensed, "She's the expert the hacker that's why I recruited her," and paid her a lot of money all of it in cash.
"She insists you did everything and indeed all the hacking has your signature on it."
"That's insane I don't know anything about IT, why would she lie?"
Wheeler's shrug was disturbingly casual as if he didn't really care or suspected Perry was lying, no doubt many people lied to him.
"Where is Jane now," David asked?
"Released some time ago on the insistence of a high powered lawyer, a very expensive one I might add."
Yes paid for with my cash thought David sourly, he couldn't believe Jane had dropped him in it like this; had she'd been planning it all along?
"Mr Wheeler I can assure you," he began but Chas waved him quiet.
"My advice to you Mr Perry is to buy your own high powered lawyer and get him working on this as soon as possible because as things stand you're facing a number of very serious charges, not the least of which is the criminal abduction of Ms Wisbech. You'd better hope she survives, because if she doesn't", Wheeler left this hanging in the air.
"Look I know her as Abi; she has many aliases; if you search her penthouse you'll find a host of fake passports and various bank accounts in different names."
"Yes sir the fraud squad are looking into all that and we've no doubt the lady is guilty of various offences but as things stand at the moment," Chas paused, "So do you."
They let her into ICU because she said she was the patient's sister and had ID to prove it, when the last nurse had withdrawn Jane approached the bed in which Abi lay with various wires and tubes attached. The bullet had been removed during complicated surgery and the patient was critical but stable, she's actually been very lucky.
Jane corrected herself, no the luck was all mine she thought taking out a file of bank details and 3 passports. Leaning over the bed she smiled thinking of Dave Perry and the look that must be on his face right now that he'd worked out just how big a hole he was actually in; then she said to the comatose woman with a whisper she hoped she could hear,
"I'm Abi now."